ATL, BTL and TTL Marketing - Definitions And Examples

Last updated: April 2016 

Quick definitions of ATL, BTL and TTL marketing:

ATL - Above-the-Line (think; widespread brand-building advertising)
BTL - Below-the-Line (think; highly targeted direct marketing focused on conversions)
TTL - Through-the-Line (a combination of the above - we'll explain this further down) 

Still confused? No problem, that's what the rest of this post was written to help with.

First, where do the terms come from and what is this 'line'?

Apparently, the terms ATL and BTL were first used in 1954 after Proctor and Gamble began paying advertising firms separately (and at a different rate) from other suppliers who dealt with more direct promotional efforts. In effect, marketing that was more broad in nature was separated from marketing that was more direct in nature.

That's the 'line' - it separates direct marketing from higher level brand marketing.

The term TTL is a relatively recent one, although to be honest I am unsure of exactly when this was first used. In any case the term TTL was likely coined to explain a more integrated marketing approach, which combines both the widespread and direct approaches, rather than the traditional ATL/BTL distinction.

ATL. BTL and TTL Marketing - Definitions And Examples

More detailed definitions of ATL, BTL and TTL

Here is a description of the terms mentioned above - we'll then go on to look at a few examples a bit further down this post.

ATL Marketing

'ATL Marketing' stands for 'Above The Line Marketing'. This kind of marketing is the kind of marketing that has a very broad reach and is largely untargeted. Think about a national TV campaign, where viewers across the nation see the same advert aired across the various networks.

This kind of marketing is mostly used for building brand awareness and goodwill.

BTL Marketing 

'BTL Marketing' stands for 'Below The Line Marketing'. This kind of marketing is the kind of marketing that targets specific groups of people with focus. For example, a leaflet drop in a specific area, a Google Adwords campaign targeting a certain group or a direct telemarketing campaign targeting specific businesses.

This kind of marketing is best for conversions and direct response.

TTL Marketing

'TTL Marketing' stands for 'Through The Line Marketing'. This kind of marketing is really an integrated approach, where a company would use both BTL and ATL marketing methods to reach their customer base and generate conversions. It might seem obvious, although not all marketing campaigns are like this - some are ATL only and some are BTL only (it would be much more common to see a BTL-only marketing campaign in practice though).

This kind of marketing delivers both a wide reach and a focus on conversions.

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Examples of ATL, BTL and TTL marketing

An Example Of An 'Above The Line Marketing' Campaign

An example of Above The Line marketing would be a television campaign run by a cereal company. The ad would be aired across the nation, with every viewer seeing the exact same message. As mentioned above, this kind of marketing would be used to build general brand and awareness of the business and/or it's products over the long term as well as goodwill.

(There would be no offers or incentives involved here).

An Example Of A 'Below The Line Marketing' Campaign

The same cereal company could also run a direct marketing campaign in a large city, targeting commuters on the way to work. They might offer free cereal samples along with vouchers that could be used in a local store. This would be a strategy designed to target a specific group of people and to try and encourage quick purchases, or conversions.

A similar example of this that you might have seen before is the Red Bull Mini (shown below).

An Example Of A 'Through The Line Marketing' Campaign

In this example, a pizza company could launch a nationwide Youtube campaign that would show different video ads to different users according to where the users lived, featuring a promotional code for a discount on purchases made at their local outlet.

As you can see, this is a combination of both of the other forms - ATL in terms of it's wide reach, BTL in terms of its targeted nature and conversion focus.

A few visual examples

Here are a few adverts that might help explain this in more detail:

ATL Marketing Example Image

As you can see, this advert is geared toward raising brand awareness and would likely have a vast reach. There is no direct response element here, so it can't be considered BTL or TTL.

BTL Marketing Example Image

BTL Marketing Example

The Red Bull Mini is a great example of a BTL marketing campaign - free samples are given face-to-face to people in local towns and cities. 

TTL Marketing Example Image

This kind of appeal is normally aired nationally, is useful for building brand awareness and of course has the direct response element included. Therefore, it can be considered 'through the line'.

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Are they relevant to small businesses?

I guess that they would all be relevant to small businesses, depending on the business, the type of product they have and the target audience they have in mind. For example, BTL marketing can sometimes be the best solution for a small business serving a local catchment area.

However, if I'm thinking about the most ideal solution for the average small business owner that's trying to serve a wider area, I'd have to say that TTL marketing was the most relevant these days.

The reason for this is that - put simply - TTL marketing is really just another way of describing a well designed, integrated marketing campaign. You're using some marketing channels with a wide reach to draw prospects into other channels that are designed focus on conversion. 

So, in that respect, it's probably not worth worrying too much about the terms if you already have a fully developed, multi-channel marketing plan in place that helps to increase your overall brand awareness while targeting individual segments/prospects with direct response efforts once you have them in your funnel.

A successful integrated/TTL marketing campaign gives small businesses the reach and focus on conversions that can mean a very successful overall marketing campaign. Plus, as small business owners, we now have the tools and resources at our disposal to run truly effective TTL marketing campaigns, such as social media networks, sites such as YouTube as well as PPC platforms such as Adwords. They give us the reach and the focus to implement marketing strategies that have a wide reach, yet narrow focus.

However, the following points are probably worth bearing in mind when thinking about this in practice:

- Keep it digital - printed advertising/TV slots and radio are very expensive, and difficult to measure
- Digital methods such as PPC and social media allow national coverage, but in a very targeted way to suit small business needs and budgets
- Digital methods are easy to track and measure, meaning less waste and more chance of success
- All of your marketing messages should be consistent and clear at every stage (TTL campaigns work because they get the point across well all the way from brand building to conversion)

Further reading

You may also find these posts useful:

- Are the ATL/BTL/TTL marketing lines blurring?
- Top 20 ATL and BTL marketing methods

Thanks for reading,

By Alan MacDougall

Revenue Builder is a small business marketing strategy advice blog, written to help small business owners and startups maximise sales revenue.

Also, if you're looking into ATL, BTL and TTL, you might find this post on AIDCA useful.

Would you like a 118-page ATL/BTL/TTL marketing planning guide - plus a 14 page example ATL/BTL/TTL strategy - delivered direct to your inbox?

Alan MacDougall
Hi there! I'm Alan and I write all of the posts on this blog. I hope you find it useful and if I can be of any help just give me a shout.