The end of ATL/BTL, the birth of Paid, Owned, Earned

For the better part of 2010 and as both agency structures and the work we are doing becomes less TV and press centric and more about humans and ideas, we have been searching for the right terminology to break down the different parts of our work. The traditional ATL/BTL terminology is still very much prevalent and as such a little confusing since we no longer apply these in the original form they were meant:

Above the line (ATL), below the line (BTL), and through the Line (TTL), in organizational business and marketing communications, are advertising techniques.
In a nutshell, while ATL promotions are tailored for a mass audience, Bs are targeted at individuals according to their needs or preferences. While ATL promotions can establish brand identity, BTL can actually lead to a sale. ATL promotions are also difficult to measure well, while BTL promotions are highly measurable, giving marketers valuable insights into their return-on-investment.

When we look at the above description we can very quickly see how misleading this can be since media today are not either mass or direct and almost everything is measurable. Today a TV spot properly targeted could be very segmented, or a video delivered by email could be considered as direct; with the growth of TV and VOD along with digital set-top-boxes we can also measure in much more detail who is watching what – so this description is clearly unsuitable for the changing landscape.

The advent of the web, social media and apps brought about the prevalence of words like interactive and digital – both of which have helped serve as a crutch during this transition period but again do not do proper justice to the media themselves – TV, mobile and the web can all be both digital and interactive. I personally have a big issue with the current use of the word digital since it seems to be bandied about in the industry to cover anything that someone feels is a little too technically complex for them to understand ranging from a strategy on how to use Facebook or a mobile application. I wrote a while ago that ‘Digital is not a medium‘ to try and hammer home the fact that everything is digital, and taking this further that in fact digital is not even a combination of channels but goes far beyond marketing into the organization  – Digital is not a channel, it is part of your product.

So with the death of digital and all these terms, as we move into what Russell Davies (@undermanager) describes as a post-digital era (even if we aren’t quite there yet), we need a new set of terminology to help us understand media and channels and help us organize our marketing plans.

Paid, Owned & Earned

This new definition of paid, owned and earned media is helping us much better understand the different batches into which channels can fall and also giving us a better understanding of how we should develop and adapt content to meet each one, and thereby craft our strategies. It also emphasizes the growing important of unpaid (earned & owned) media as part of the mix – places which until now have often played second fiddle alongside our TV and outdoor spending plans.

The following table from Forrester’s Sean Corcoran’s blog, gives us excellent definitions – and you can read his full blog post ‘Defining Earned, Owned And Paid Media

David Armano (@armano) has also written on the subject and developed excellent infographics to help us understand – Thoughts On Paid + Earned “Media”:

Other reading:

So good-bye ATL and BTL, adieu to the line altogether, and welcome to POEM.

By Lex Bradshaw-Zanger

A digital native and integrated brand marketer with a passion for marketing-communications and product design, Lex has a truly international outlook and experience, having worked both in major marketing agencies and client-side brands across Europe, the US and the Middle East.


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