I’ve heard these phrases a bunch of times but never really knew what they meant. So, in the interests of (self) education, here’s my understanding of what they mean, and some implications for brands in the current climate.
Above the Line
Above the Line promotion deals with driving awareness. Spraying unwitting consumers with shiny messages in the hope that some of them stick. In the hope that some consumers, based on something that someone has paid to put in front them, will start to consider purchase of that item.
In terms of real profit, above the line promotion is deeply flawed because it only drives awareness or consideration. So while you can spend a bunch of money on some amazing creative, there’s no way to monitor or measure the effect of all this spending on sales.
Below the Line
Below the Line promotion deals with the next step. Once the consumer is aware of the product, below the line spending is designed to increase their preference.
While above the line gets all the big shiny awards at Cannes for the ad agencies and CMOs, internally, it’s below the line that gets the plaudits. It’s below the line that really drives sales, drives customers, brings in new clients and, importantly, retains them once their there. Above the line primes the customer for the rest of the marketing mix, and often is enough to generate the sale on its own for, say, a cola or chocolate bar, but if you’re looking at a major purchase, a flashy ad for a car ain’t going to cut it.
Through the Line
As with all of these things, nothing can work in a vacuum, everything works better together. Through the line speaks to that symbiosis – an ad points the user to a Web site or an in-store promotion. Key messages in the ad push a user to perform a key word search and organic/paid search pushes the user further down the sales funnel.
It’s almost as if someone has thought about it all and almost like everything does, indeed work together.
Marketing is a highly fragmented discipline, both in the agency world and client side. We need to get better at truly integrating, in knowing how all the moving parts work together. In ensuring our clients are getting as much marketing bang for their buck as is possible. And we can only do that by going through the line for them.