Saturday, 28 March 2009

The New ATL

[Note for Millennials: ATL is 'above the line' media, an ancient, but still used, advertising agency term for the expensive and therefore extremely profitable media billed at a 17.5% mark-up which are impossible to measure ROI (return on investment) on, like TV, radio, print and outdoor -- versus BTL (below the line) media like promotions/contests, in-store signage, pamphlets and couponing (with most of which impact on sales COULD be measured, so were therefore looked down upon by the advertising spin-doctors as irrelevant and too 'boring' to be considered to be a real part of a brand's advertising media mix).]

There's a lot of debate swirling around out there about where the big bucks are eventually going to shift as the masses (the masses of marketing folks, that is) finally start figuring out THE FIRST GREAT REVELATION: that Mobile access to the Internet and the Net itself, are just channels, like broadcast TV or satellite radio -- channels for content/programming that people are interested in. The SECOND GREAT REVELATION being that (yes, I'm oversimplifying) all the other over-hyped, flash-in-the-pan experiments that are part of the evolution of human behaviour in the newly digital world (Twitter, Skype, eMail, SecondLife, blogging, IMing, Google Earth & LBS, social sites like Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, etc. and 'organizing in the cloud', plus the dozens more coming), are all just tactics, not new 'channels'.

What strikes me as a breath-taking lack of foresight is that, now 10 full years after the publication of "The Experience Economy" (Pine & Gilmore), Nielsen and all the other major media spend trackers are ignoring the new ATL, the channel that has already won the largest and fastest growing percentage-change-vs.-year-ago score of any new media on 'purchase intent' due to its run-away effectiveness at deepening brand relationships, impact on intention to buy, influence on WOM and long-lasting memorability. I'm talking about something that most traditionalists (some would call them blind ostriches) refuse to see is a type of medium: experiential marketing (XM), until recently often mislabelled as event marketing (EM), which is really a slightly different 'beast'. XM is simply face-to-face, buyer-seller interaction that leads to a sale.

XM is the new ATL, especially when married to 'interactive/social' (yes, I CAN lump them together, see paragraph #1). In the coming decade HUGE sums of marketing dollars will be shifted from TV to XM, with a large portion going to both new ROI metrics that will be developed to measure/prove its effectiveness and another large portion being spent on online video advertising (which will NOT be endlessly repeated :30 TV spots, but will be advertorial/instructional and fun/warm & fuzzy podcast-like clips) to support the XM efforts that are taking place out in the marketplace, in the street and in-store. Let's face it, online advertising is MOST effective when it ties in directly to something you are interested in buying and have had some exposure to in real life. When the interactivity of online efforts tie back to an actual, REAL experience with a product, the seeds of brand-building and long term loyalty are sown.

The age of thousands upon thousands of wannabe film directors flying to Cannes to pat themselves on the back over how engaging and entertaining their 'short films' are was already over about the time the get-rich-quick investors bailed out of Internet stocks back in 2001. The TV advertising business model was 'push marketing' at its extreme and really would never have existed had the consumer always been in charge. The key, fundamental difference that will guide online video vs. TV is 'no repetition' -- no one wants to see your very clever/funny :30 more than once or twice -- and they never did.

Even today, decades after XM began, first in marketplaces with "Snake Oil Salesmen", then with blue-haired ladies giving out samples in grocery stores, then at events and consumer shows with guys like "Vince, the SHAM WOW! Showman", NO legitimate major organization is measuring XM spending with the major Fortune 500 marketing firms. The Event View 2009 Survey (now sponsored by George P. Johnson, MPI Foundation & Event Marketing Institute) is the closest thing we have to a tracking device, but it only shifted from solely EM to XM this year and STILL only surveys firms (although some are very big) that tend to use events/trade shows as their primary marketing tool.

P&G actually got in bed with many of its competitors to help fund Nielsen's new PRISM in-store effectiveness/spending tracking tool (recently, and sadly, suspended), but no one is focusing on XM yet, proving only that it is still not yet 'on the radar', but you 'heard it here first', experiential marketing (again, working hand-in-hand with interactive) is 'the new ATL'. Its just that mainstream marketers have not picked up on it yet. Be the first brand on your block to 'lead from the front' and 'own' XM -- yes, it's more expensive per consumer impression than TV, that's because it works 1,000 times more effectively to turn consumers into loyal buyers (but don’t quote me on that figure!).

For a more thorough treatise (longer...) on the future of marketing, read this more recent post:


  1. Couldn't agree more! Even the supposed 'marketing professionals' I speak to could still not define what experiential marketing is. If they can be convinced that 5,000 consumers exposed to a product by XM is far more likely to result in a sales uplift than 50,000 eyeballs viewing an ad then we may begin to see a change. CPM is no longer a viable measure (if indeed it ever was). Great article and happy to be your first follower.

  2. Must read for any marketer. I have been around this business for over 10 years and the 'holy grail' of measurement of XM has been a constant struggle. The true measure really has to be - conversion. That scares a lot of marketers - you mean we are responsible for sales? :)

    But if done correctly XM is the best medium out there.


  3. Agreed, Brady, and the evidence, although still anecdotal, is beginning to support XM's ROI. The ultimate proof will be that although XM costs 100 times more than ATL per impression, it is 1,000 times more effective (don't quote me on that ratio!).




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...