Recently Jaideep Bhattacharya, Chief Marketing Officer, UTI AMC decided to use the services of the 5,000-odd dabbawalas in Mumbai to sell his new Wealth Builder Fund. The slowdown in his industry has led to ad budgets getting slashed. Using this below-the-line (BTL) activity was thought to be a surefire way to touch potential customers rather than invest in fragmented mass media to do the same. Using the dabbawalas as ‘relationship managers’, Bhattacharya believes, will serve as a direct marketing tool for the launch of the new mutual fund.
“The dabbawalas would be wearing our branded T-shirts and are being trained in how to hand the mutual fund forms to the officegoer to whom he delivers the dabba. We realised in this case that the direct hits through a newspaper ad would be much lower compared to the potential users who would be directly approached through the dabbawalas. There would be a bigger bang for the buck spent through direct marketing,” says Bhattacharya. Using the 5,000-odd dabbawalas serving Mumbai’s officegoers was seen as a less expensive and viable marketing tool.
In spite of being an unorganised segment BTL as an industry is possibly growing faster than ATL (above the line) today and ad agency heads concede this fact. As Subhash Kamath, Managing Partner, BBH, observes: “In spite of being unorganised BTL has been growing faster than ATL. This year it has grown at 25 per cent while ATL has grown between 12 and 15 per cent over last year. For clients mass media has not been the only expenditure. This whole space of activation under BTL ranging from events to promotions has grown much faster.”
In fact, both independent and affiliated BTL agencies belonging to bigger advertising networks have experienced a sudden spurt in their business. “From the conversations that we are having with some prospects, yes, we see quite a few requests for proposals for BTL marketing programmes, to address some of the marketing challenges that brands and clients are facing. There is a caution that clients are demonstrating when committing ATL budgets. But as there is an ongoing need to fuel demand or retain customers, these brands are looking at achieving these goals through focused, phased and targeted measurable BTL activities. It is thus not that the ATL budgets have shifted to BTL, it is more that expenditure on BTL compared to a few months ago in absolute quantum is perhaps increasing, says Rajesh Ghatge, Executive Director & COO, 141 Sercon (a BTL agency for Bates) .
In the case of Arc Worldwide, a marketing services agency affiliated to Leo Burnett, too there has been spurt in business of late. According to C.V. S. Sharma, Senior Vice-President and Director, Arc Worldwide, “There has been a 30 per cent growth compared to last year in the business of the agency. There is definitely a spurt in BTL activity. Most companies, especially in consumer durables using mass media, have increased their spends on areas such as trade marketing channels. The marketing mix is now favouring BTL activities and there is measurability in the ROI in such cases.”
To give some broad trends across industries using BTL, cosmetics and durables brands are doing more of in-shop promotion and activation to induce trials while telecom service providers, education segment, banks, insurance and automobiles are carrying out location-based or segment-based targeted online and offline campaigns. Industries such as automobiles are doing significant CRM (customer relationship management) and loyalty activity to cross sell, up-sell and retain their existing customers to reduce churn and increase per customer realisation while FMCG, durables and IT (consumer products) are investing in and consolidating their channel management and incentive programmes to win in the last mile. Besides, in the case of IT products — telecom and auto companies - investing in comprehensive digital marketing programmes has become more prominent in recent times.
According to Srikant Sastri, Managing Director, Solutions Integrated (servicing the Publicis Groupe agencies), “Clients are gradually realigning their marketing mix to embrace a more integrated strategy which allows them to reach a fragmented audience comprehensively and also to make a greater impact with better experience and interactivity. Marketers across industries and verticals are focusing on experimental and digital media to engage customers more deeply with brands. This, in turn, is enabling them to address individual customer/channel demands and customise their interaction, thus generating specific and result-oriented response from the campaigns.”
At the same time it would be not be fair to compare the effectiveness of BTL over ATL but in times of slowdown in ad spends, the former does help. As Ghatge of 141 Sercon observes, “Both ATL and BTL have different objectives, generally speaking, in terms of relevance. ATL strategy is driven towards awareness and brand building goals, ‘counting your reach’. BTL strategy is driven towards creating relevant brand and product experiences, interaction, engagements, ‘reaching those who count’. When there is a general squeeze on the ad spends, brands may resort to more of BTL as it tends to be measurable and importantly, may give some immediate results. Also, as the programmes are targeted there is lesser wastage.”
Adds Rajesh Menon, Managing Director, Impact Marketing Services, “It would be unfair to directly compare ATL with BTL and there can never really be a trade-off between the two. ATL is a required input in order to build a brand while BTL is primarily used to give that needed push in terms of converting a desire into an actual experience and a purchase. BTL activities are measurable. ATL, unfortunately, cannot be measured.”
New technologies and services are also emerging, such as online video advertising in the BTL space. Jivox, an international company, was recently launched to provide an integrated service that allows an advertiser to create, publish and closely monitor/refine the performance of a video advertisement on the Internet. According to Diaz Nesamoney, Founder & CEO, Jivox, “The slowdown has forced companies to try out new media which cost less. Online videos ads have already been adopted by our clients such as LG, Fiat and Tata Sky who believe in achieving optimum results through such videos.”
Lesser wastage and measurability are probably the two factors which make BTL activation more popular in times of a slowdown. As Sastri of Solutions claims, “A measurable positive response will instantly yield return for the campaign. More than the cut in ad spends, marketing managers are embracing experiential and digital techniques to ensure ROMI (return on marketing investment) and a direct interaction with their customers. When you measure the direct impact of a sustained BTL marketing campaign on your business results, the cost of acquiring/retaining a customer obviously proves to be much more effective.”
The cost of reaching the customer is also not always a consideration in the case of BTL. “The reason for the shift from ATL to activation is not as much to do with lower costs as it is to do with is superior quality of contact. The sheer impact a brand is able to make with the overall lower ticket spend is superior to ATL spends which tend to be inflated,” says Atul S. Nath, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Candid Marketing.
However, for BTL it is measurability of the medium that is working for clients facing a slowdown in the business. “The prime reason for the shift to BTL is because marketers are waking up to the fact that BTL is measurable. With increasing pressures on performance on a monthly/quarterly basis, simply advertising and waiting for a brand to move from the shelf days are over. The need of the hour is a ‘here and now’ approach. And BTL activities provide that ‘here and now’, adds Rajesh Menon of Impact.