It's Time to Bury "The Line"

By ANA InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: It's Time to Bury "The Line"

The “line.”  Marketers and their agencies have referred to the nebulous “line” for decades when referring to different types of spending.  Some in the business define traditional advertising as “above the line” and other disciplines such as point of sale and direct marketing “below the line.”  Others differentiate based on scope (mass vs. niche focused) or purpose (long term awareness vs. short term incentive).  But given the complexity and integration of marketing support, the lines are quickly blurring.   It’s time to bury the line and use a new approach.

The history of “the line” goes back to the Mad Men days of the 1950’s when Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s biggest advertisers then and now, defined “the line” from an accounting standpoint to differentiate between media that earned commissions for agencies (above the line) to those that didn’t (below the line).  Since then as payment models have changed and marketing has become hyper-integrated across vehicles and media types, there is no common agreement on where “the line” is.  On top of that, there has developed a sort of “second class” psychological standing for all things “below the line.”  However, that has drastically changed with the new way of looking at “the line.”  It’s called brand activation and it’s causing advertisers to reassess and reevaluate their approach to marketing.

Brand activation -- marketing that both builds a brand’s image and drives a specific consumer behavior or action -- focuses on six disciplines that help bring a brand to life through interacting with the consumer.  These disciplines -- promotion, content, influencer, experiential, relationship/loyalty and retailer/shopper marketing -- cover most marketing activities other than advertising and trade promotion, regardless of which side of the “the line” they appear on.

In a recent, first-of-its-kind forecast of brand activation expenditures conducted by the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) in collaboration with and licensed from PQ Media, the data reinforced the importance of brand activation within the total marketing universe.  Total spending across 21 industry verticals came in at $600 billion, representing 60 percent of the total $1 trillion marketing ecosystem and nearly twice the size of advertising spending.  And it’s growing at a faster rate.

A number of factors help explain why marketers are spending more in brand activation.  They include:

  • The exponential growth in marketing technology, mobile usage and the means to reach and nurture relationships with consumers.  Brian Kristofek, President and CEO of activation agency Upshot, says: “The adoption of technology has changed consumer behavior and allowed marketers to thread together brand building and behavior-driving activities, which supports the rise of technology-enabled disciplines like relationship, influencer and content marketing.  These disciplines reflect how people want to engage with brands.  They’re all participatory, sharable and inclusive of the consumer versus talking at them.”
  • The growth of Gen X and Z audiences and how mobile and social media have become such an important part of their lives, evidenced by influencer and content marketing being the fastest growing brand activation disciplines.
  • The boom in data targeting and personalization, leading to relationship marketing being the discipline with the most spending.
  • The challenges that exist in advertising with respect to transparency, digital supply chain, etc. has led marketers to seek other methods to engage with consumers.
  • The proliferation of media outlets and ways to reach consumers adds immense complexity to marketers’ jobs.  “Engagement is becoming more important and it’s harder to get it with traditional vehicles,” says Fred Duchin, Vice President/General Manager Profit Stars and Consumer Engagement at Bayer Consumer Health Division.  “Activation is benefiting from the ability to potentially better engage the consumer in what you want to communicate with them. The world’s a lot more complex from a marketing standpoint now, and the ability to actually break through and engage is harder.  That’s why you’re seeing more dollars move to brand activation.”

The ANA has buried “the line,” so please join us in celebrating the birth, power and importance of brand activation.  The future looks strong, and as technology changes and brands need more ways to help them grow, brand activation will continue to grow in importance.  It’s an exciting time to be working in this space, and happy that we’re no longer constrained by “the line.”  Rest in peace.

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