What Is Below-the-Line Advertising?

Below-the-line advertising is an advertising strategy where products are promoted in media other than mainstream radio, television, billboards, print and film formats. The main types of below-the-line advertising systems include direct mail campaigns, trade shows, catalogs, and targeted search engine marketing. Below-the-line advertising methods tend to be less expensive and more focused than other types of approaches.

Understanding Below-the-Line Advertising

Below-the-line advertising seeks to reach consumers directly, instead of casting a wide net to reach mass audiences. Rather than airing a national commercial during a hit network television show, a below-the-line campaign might instead focus on an in-store demonstration of a product, that consumers may wish to investigate in person. This allows for a more high-touch experience, where a salesperson can answer direct questions and better explain the products. 

From a budgetary perspective, the return on investment (ROI) for below-the-line advertising efforts are generally higher than ROIs for above-the-line campaigns because the former typically can be more easily and cheaply executed, tracked, and controlled.

Above-the-Line Versus Below-the-Line Advertising

Above-the-line advertising is designed to reach mass audiences. The epitome of above-the-line marketing is a Super Bowl television ad, which costs millions of dollars for mere seconds of airtime, but instantly reaches tens of millions of consumers on a global basis. On the downside, statistically speaking, a significant percentage of those viewers may not typify a company’s target consumer.

Contrarily, below-the-line advertising reaches fewer people but is more selective about its audience. In most cases, below-the-line advertisers initially conduct extensive market research, in an effort to identify a target niche of buyers more likely to purchase the products in question. Once this target demographic is identified, below-the-line advertising directly reaches consumers in a more personalized manner, through direct mail sent to their homes, face-to-face contacts at trade shows or paid search engine results that pop up when consumers enter specific queries.

Advantages of Below-the-Line Advertising

Lower costs are arguably the biggest advantage of below-the-line advertising. While TV and radio ads tend to be pricy, direct mailing and search engine marketing are far more economical. And below-the-line methods can be more cheaply and easily scaled up or down.

Furthermore, below-the-line methods make it easier to track conversions with intended consumers. Case in point: though there are multiple strategies for tracking the effectiveness of TV and radio ads, it's hard to gauge overall impact. Asking customers how they heard about a business, for example, can yield unreliable responses because people sometimes recall their experiences inaccurately. On the other hand, email and search engine marketing precisely track the links consumers click, in order to provide businesses with more exacting details.

Below-the-line marketing fosters superior customer engagement, which is critical in today’s modern business landscape. While above-the-line methods are ideal for spreading general brand awareness, below-the-line tactics are preferable for fostering more meaningful relationships with potential customers.