The origins of the old fashioned terms ATL and BTL came from the early days of media commissions, where the agency would prepare quotes and invoices based on creative and production that was media commission generating being subsidised and “above the line” which non-media commissioned related activity was “below the line”.
But the media commission in most markets is being phased out.
And the idea that ATL is mass paid media and BTL is one-to-one direct communications is also not a clear differentiator any more as technology means that you can now communicate with a mass market one-to-one.
So if it is no longer relevant to use ATL or BTL, then what should we use?
Media companies create content and distribute through their media channels.
Movie studios commission or acquire content from producers and distribute through their distribution channels.
Record companies sign artists who create content to distribute through retail and online sales.
Publishers commission or sign authors to write content for publication and distribution through retail and online sales.
And the advertising and marketing communications can be categorised the same way.
Marketers commission various agencies to develop, select or buy channels to reach their audiences and create the content to and engage their audiences.
Media agencies are now talking about how channels can now be “Bought, owned or earned”.
Traditional creative agencies create content – advertising for use over mass media channels.
Digital agencies build content – web site, application and banner ads for accessed and interacted with over a mass channel – the internet.
Direct marketing create content – personalised and customised eDM and Direct Mail – for distribution through mass channels – email, telephony, fax, internet and mail.
Database marketing is defining channels and strategy for content.
Public Relations use media relations strategies to develop content for particular media editorial channels.
Can you suggest a more useful distinction?