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In advertising, the term “below the line” refers to marketing campaigns aimed directly at individual consumers, providing personal contact with the advertising. This contrasts with above the line strategies, like mass media advertising, intended to build brand name recognition and project a general company image, rather than to land specific sales. This term is considered somewhat outdated in many areas of the marketing community, as advertising is no longer developed into above and below the line, and people may prefer the term “integrated communication approach” to talk about advertising strategies.
Some examples of this type of advertising include catalogs and other direct marketing techniques, where individual consumers are contacted to land sales. In addition, promotions intended to draw in customers or increase customer loyalty on a store level can also be considered below the line advertising. This contrasts with mass media branding campaigns. Historically, advertising agencies commanded very large commissions for such campaigns, but were not involved with direct marketing efforts.
Another important aspect of below the line advertising tends to be fixed costs. Rather than performing work on commission, it is done for a set and fixed fee per contact. Something like catalog sales, for example, requires expenditure to design, print, and mail the catalogs, but large commissions for creative work are not involved, while online advertising pays per impression. In above the line advertising, the company commissioned to make the ad charges a fee and folds costs for ad placement into that fee, providing inclusive service with its brand management expertise.
Through the line communication, bridging aspects of both approaches, is increasingly common. Shifts in how media is used have also changed the way people develop and talk about advertising. Something like a viral video campaign, for example, does not fit precisely into the model of above and below the line, as it may not accomplish traditional advertising goals. The development of things like web television, where people can interact directly with mass media advertisements, has also changed the way advertisers present material.
Some people continue to think of advertising in terms of whether it is below or above the line. Very traditional ad agencies with an established billing structure may refer to these terms in their statements for clients, familiarizing them with how the billing for the account is handled. Large companies may also be familiar with this terminology and can prefer it when discussing the development of new ad campaigns. Other firms use different terminology, reflecting changing trends in advertising.