Categorising different marketing approaches helps those in the industry better understand the most appropriate approach to different demographics. The ‘above and below the line’ dichotomy offers a clear division between broad and targeted marketing.
While the key differences between above the line and below the line marketing may seem quite obvious, they are worth revisiting as the line between them (pun) becomes more blurred due to digitalisation and data analytics.
Above vs Below
In my eyes, comparing above and below the line marketing, is like comparing a machine gun with a sniper rifle. The machine gun can cover a lot of ground, but it requires a lot more ammunition and you may not always hit the right target. A sniper rifle is much more precise and calculating, but your spread will be a lot focused, which could prove more expensive and time consuming.
Above the line marketing has a wide target range of audiences and uses mainstream media to promote goods and services. This approach includes radio, television, print, billboards and outdoor media, and even online ads, like web banners.
Below the line marketing targets smaller audiences and are more niche-oriented. This includes direct messaging through mail or text, discount coupons, shop-front activities, exhibitions, and targeted social media ads based on user data.
In this era of data analytics and SEO optimisation, above the line marketing seems archaic and ineffectual – especially since below the line offers reporting and feedback based on engagement. There’s no exact way of telling whether a TV ad enticed a new customer – but you can know for certain how many people opened an email or clicked through to your e-commerce platform.
Below the line marketing has become much cheaper and far more powerful in the age of intelligent technologies. Back in the day, a below the line campaign would require a significant amount of time and resources that most businesses simply didn’t have. This usually meant conducting or accessing market research. It also meant using creative promotional that demonstrated an understanding of audiences (both current and potential).
Today, you can run a targeted and below the line campaign with a few simple email options and an automation service. Businesses are also advertising on social media platforms that intelligently target specific user demographics.
Because you’re mine. I walk the line
Imagine looking through the contents of someone’s phone – it wouldn’t take long to build a complete profile of this person. GPS information would give you their real-time location data, banking apps would showcase their spending habits; social media platforms highlight their personal, familial, and professional relationships; and browser history displays their online preferences.
Its little wonder organisations are scrambling to purchase consumer data – there is no more comprehensive form of market research. This misuse of data has become normal practice amongst social media apps that access your devices and compile information based on the places you go, the sites you visit, the content you consume, and the people with whom you connect.
Below the line marketing in this digital age opens a Pandora’s Box of ethical questions and we’ve already seen some harsh repercussions. The 2016 victories of Brexit and Donald Trump may not have been possible without massive data breaches by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, which harvested user data to conduct the most nefarious form of below the line marketing towards ‘persuadable’ voters.
While these might be extreme examples, it demonstrates how easily people can be persuaded to act against their own interests with the right kind of marketing. Data analytics is reshaping the way businesses advertise and the most intelligent enterprises are recognising the need for more targeted marketing solutions.
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