Walk into a mall on any given Saturday and you’re likely to be faced with emcees and performers urging you to participate in some form of brand activation. Brands, big and small, are now increasingly invested in below-the-line marketing (BTL) and mall activation is just one of the chosen modes. When cricketer Sachin Tendulkar was on the verge of reaching his 100 centuries milestone, real estate developers, Amit Enterprises Housing made the best use of the opportunity by getting the legendary batsman to plant 99 saplings at its Colori township in Pune. The event titled ‘Nature-ally’ was an effort to generate awareness on preserving the city’s ecological heritage. Technology giant, Google, leveraged BTL through its Google Internet Bus initiative through an India tour that highlighted the advantages of using the Internet. While technology, real estate and finance are some of the industries that are experimenting with BTL only in the recent times, industries such as FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), apparel retail, automobiles and the likes have made good use of the medium to create a connect with consumers.
To clearly define BTL, it is a combination of direct interaction through mailers or on-ground activation, in-store promotions, street plays and other activities of a similar nature. The most striking feature of BTL over above-the-line advertising (ATL) is the direct interaction it allows with consumers. “ATL basically tries to create awareness by pushing the products to the consumer. BTL is a 360 degree campaign that ensures the consumer engages in the campaign. BTL campaigns create trust in the consumers’ minds by letting them experience it. Not many people will take the effort to go to stores to experience products that they have seen through ATL,” says Sadanand Parulekar, business head, JWT Connect who has been at the helm of several BTL campaigns for brands such as Hindustan Petroleum Gas and Pepsico. Samir Gupte, president, Ogilvy Action and country head, Outreach and Live at Ogilvy and Mather is in agreement, “A one-way medium can only say that a product is good. BTL campaigns prove the same to the consumer. The enquiries of consumers are addressed through BTL.”
“ATL basically tries to create awareness by pushing the products to the consumer. BTL is a 360 degree campaign that ensures the consumer engages in the campaign. BTL campaigns create trust in the consumers’ minds by letting them experience it. Not many people will take the effort to go to stores to experience products that they have seen through ATL.”
Indian technology player Sify was one of the pioneers of broadband technology in India and its BTL campaigns that commenced in 2008 helped demystify the product. “Our initial BTL campaigns were very focused on product experience for prospective consumers as they could feel for themselves the change in connection speeds,” says Sukanta Pal, marketing head, Sify consumer business. And ever since, the brand has relied on BTL to boost product sales.
A two-way connect
When it comes to BTL, the response mechanism is integral to the activity. For the brand, BTL provides an opportunity to measure effectiveness, something that is near impossible to achieve with ATL. Shibani Mishra, chief marketing and visual merchandising, Indus League says that the impact of BTL can be directly correlated to sales of a product. For its brand, Indigo Nation, the apparel retailer engaged in mall activation across India’s Tier-I cities to launch a new product called ‘My Music Shirt’. The shirt itself was unique as it featured a ‘pocket within a pocket’ mechanism meant to store music players in a manner where the wire connecting the earphones was concealed. “For this specific BTL campaign, we capitalised on the Michael Jackson frenzy that surrounded his death and did a tribute to the music legend which communicated our product’s feature to the target audience,” says Mishra, while adding that over a six month period the product saw a 92 per cent sell through rate.
Gupte elaborates on common methodology used to measure the return on investment of BTL. “We measure the effectiveness of a BTL campaign through pre and post studies.” In the pre-study, the main sources of awareness and knowledge of existence of the brand is established. In urban areas, brands follow the test and control method, where they identify two stores in a mall and do activation in one of them. Based on the increase in sales or walk-ins, the impact of the on-ground activities is measured. Toll free numbers and website traffic are also utilised to assess the reach of BTL campaigns.”
Apart from offering a cost-effective alternative to ATL, the direct nature of BTL is very useful when it comes to incorporating consumer feedback to better a product. “Sify conducted a pan-India BTL campaign that asked consumers to identify the changes they would like to see to better their experience of surfing the Internet. Over 20,000 consumers participated in this activity and their feedback was processed and used to enhance our broadband products,” says Pal.
Rural India still presents a multitude of challenges to the Indian marketer, including poor reach through traditional media. When Hindustan Unilever (HUL) went rural, it took the BTL route to engage consumers. Ogilvy Action, on behalf of HUL, executed a campaign titled ‘Swasthya Chetna’ to promote brand Lifebuoy. “We conducted Swasthya Chetna in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra where we did door-to-door sampling, street plays and demonstrations,” says Gupte. The award winning campaign was instituted in 2002 and since has reached 130 million people in 30,000 villages across India. Parulekar reiterates why BTL works much better than ATL in rural India by saying, “Consumers in rural areas cannot decode an ATL advertisement the same way as urban consumers since most of them are not literate. And this makes demonstrations through BTL very effective.”
While the efficacy of BTL has been proven repeatedly, in most cases, it still plays second fiddle to ATL. This is simply because of the reach and recall factor that ATL provides. For Mishra and Indus League, the choice of BTL over ATL depends on the target audience the brand is trying to reach. “For Jealous 21, where the target audience comprises young girls, we prefer direct activation whereas for more mature brands such as Daniel Hechter or Scullers, we use print media extensively,” she says. However, recent trends indicate that several brands are increasing their BTL spends to about 40 per cent of their overall marketing budget. Parulekar predicts an ATL to BTL ratio of 70:30, but stresses on the fact that BTL spends are quite likely to go up in the future. “I foresee the marrying of digital with BTL. Interactive screens and smart phones have made many new innovations within the medium possible for us and will help in making BTL more effective,” concludes Gupte.