The current economic slowdown has been leading to several changes in the industry, media and advertising spends. A gradual shift is beginning to emerge from above-the-line to below-the-line activities, which is due to, in part, the result of changing consumer attitudes and a more sophisticated consumer demand relevant messaging that engages them in a dialog, and which allows them to interact with the marketer through their preferred communication channels. At the same time, technology allows marketers to better target consumers and to better track results and measure ROI of BTL campaigns.
exchange4media spoke to a cross-section of agencies, media planners and clients on the reasons for this shift from ATL to BTL activities.
How much of this shift has been triggered by the slowdown?
According to Alok Lall, Managing Director, iris Worldwide, “This shift has been triggered by the economic slowdown because there was a general trend towards this over recent years with clients trying to find news ways and touch points to reach the target audiences as well as the fact that it has always been easier to prove effectiveness. The economic slowdown has accelerated this shift as clients increasingly need to focus on ROI and agencies become more accountable. Those agencies that are centered on ATL activities will really start to feel the pinch.”
Ajit Narayan, Chief Strategy Officer & Digital Evangelist – Asia, 141Sercon, said, “This question is really assuming that the shift has very much happened, when it has not. The entire marketing and communication fraternity is talking about the much-touted shift. The talk and the hype don’t really mean action. Over the last few years, at least in India, with the proliferation of products, choices and options for consumers, marketing has been evolving into a multifaceted discipline. It’s all about people and how they would like to be spoken to, which drives marketing communications. This is the main reason for the entry of other ways of getting in touch with the consumer, apart from mass media – call it direct marketing, BTL, activation, digital, whatever.”
Chandradeep Mitra, President, Mudra Max, opined, “Though not the only reason, the economic slowdown is definitely contributing to increased focus on those marketing activities that can produce immediate/ short-term sales generation, and a large part of such activities are BTL. Hence, there is an added thrust on BTL activities due to the slowdown.”
On a different note, Tarun Nigam, Executive Director India - North, Starcom Mediawest Group, said, “To us, it will be never be a shift. It is a decision between short term to long term and sustainability versus expedience. Some marketing colleagues would like to take expedient decisions which would help them survive them in the short run, while the smart marketers would like to take decisions that would be long term ones.”
Laxmikant Gupta, CMO, LGEIL, informed exchange4media, “We are very much active on the ATL front. In fact, we have significantly increased advertising spending in 2008 as compared to the previous year. The economic slowdown, if it happens, will mean we will look for better efficiencies, but we will not increase BTL at the cost of ATL. We will continue doing normal as well as innovative BTL, which will increase the propensity of consumers to choose LG at the point of sale.”
Sunil Dutt, Country Head, Samsung Telecom Business, said, “ At Samsung, this focus on BTL has been integrally linked with our strategy to expand our footprint in the country. Thus, our efforts to increase four-fold our Samsung Mobile Privileged Partner (SMPP) network, enhance in-shop displays at retail counters, POP/POS material or road shows are all part of our concerted strategy to enhance consumer interface for our mobiles at every level.”
What are the other reasons for this shift from ATL to BTL?
Lal added, “Changes in consumer behaviour are also a large factor and we are now living in an experience economy, where it is all about engagement – whether that is through sponsorship activation of sports events or from a retail experience through recreational time spent at a mall. The other reason is accountability. Clients need to prove quick and effective ROI and ultimately sales. It is no longer about opportunities to view. The old media metrics clients need results and that’s about getting products into the hands of the consumers.”
Mitra opined, “There is an overall ongoing trend, irrespective of the slowdown, of a gradual shift from ATL to BTL, due to marketers seeking other avenues beyond traditional media solutions to build brands, and also due to marketers looking for more accountable ROI-driven marketing programmes.”
Nigam, too, said that the economic slowdown was one of the reasons for the shift. According to him, another reason was optimising marketing investments to get the best return on objective.
Gupta maintained that they were not shifting from ATL to BTL, but were doing both in equal measures.
What kind of BTL activities are clients looking for?
Lall informed exchnage4media, “The clients are looking for activity that elicits behaviour change and are sales driven. You could say that they are looking for solutions that are ‘besides or beyond the line’ rather than ATL or BTL. They are looking at a fresher, more innovative and integrated approach to reaching out to their consumers and we are seeing a significant increase in investments in promotional, digital and retail activities.”
“BTL activities that we look for are the ones that directly impact our brand’s ability to influence consumer’s choice in our favour at the shop level. These include both brand building activities like roadshows and mall activities as well as those directly linked to converting consideration to purchase like catalogues, shop demonstrators, other POP material. The closer we are to point of sale, the more the emphasis on closing the sale,” Gupta added.
According to Dutt, “The kind of BTL activities being done by companies depends on the needs and strategies of a company. They can range from participation in events, road shows, exhibitions, etc., to focus on consumer demonstrations on products to POP/POS material.”
Will we see more of interactive digital medium now?
Lall felt there was a definite shift and the balance of power was being re-addressed. “There will always be place for traditional advertising, but the dominance of ATL agencies having a seat at the top table is a thing of the past. Mediums like digital and experiential will come to the fore in these times,” he added.
Narayan pointed out that the shift had started way before one had even heard the words ‘economic slowdown’ in the current state of affairs.
Mitra, too, said that the shift started happening years back and the process would continue gradually for many more years as traditional media still commanded a very large proportion of consumer engagement opportunities. “Net penetration is still low, while mobile marketing has not evolved we as yet,” he said.
Nigam added here, “Traditional to non-traditional is a fad now. It’s a shift of thinking that we need to do and move ourselves to the return of imagination from the so-called return on investment mode. Digital is one such step that would help us optimise spends with a robust measurement.”
Gupta commented, “Both traditional advertising media as well as new media such as digital media have roles to play in a consumers’ purchase cycle. We will continue to invest in traditional media since they continue to play key roles in enhancing brand image, creating awareness of products and their features and benefits and in generating consumers’ consideration to purchase our brand.”
Dutt observed, “The idea is to reach out to consumers in a more interactive manner, rather than relying on mere print or TV advertising .Giving the consumer an experience of the product, the form factor, the performance, etc., today are increasingly becoming more relevant, especially in technology led categories, and that is why marketing needs to move from mere advertising to more interactive forms using BTL or other media like Internet, etc., along with traditional advertising.”