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By Miguel Fialho

March 2010
First, I would like to thank everyone from the advertising world that made this study possible. I
know you all have a lot in your hands in a daily basis so the time you’ve dedicated to my
project is greatly appreciated.

I am a university marketing student, and at some point - as classes were going on - some
specific subjects started to interest me, mostly those related to the communication
approaches, regarding relations between brands and consumers in general.

One initial question was related to cinema: why is cinema considered above the line if the
investment on that channel, is always so low in about every country in the world? From that
point I tried to understand the origins of the term, so I’ve asked the opinion of advertisers that
went through the golden years of advertising: all of them agreed on the accountant sense of
the terms and one of them puts it quite simple, “Anything that was commissionable was above
the line. Anything that was not commissionable was below the line”.
So basically, it has to do with commissions, a system widely used in the past in the
advertising/media business.

I also asked the opinion to a few teachers, and they all came up with the same: it is related to
commissions. Therefore it’s above the line. Anyway, I went even further. What if I ask people
from industry what are their thoughts about it? Today agencies are paid on fees; their
revenues on cinema aren’t exactly their core business so why label it as above the line?
So I started with a simple question, “Do you consider advertising investment in cinema, Above
the line or Below the line?” And since I was about to send dozens of emails I decided to ask
another question: “Do you consider advertising investment on internet, Above the line or
Below the line?” As we will see further on the results, a lot can be said about internet
regarding advertising and marketing.
After a couple of emails I understood that a new question needed to be added to the survey:
at the time I had ten emails on my inbox, where seven of them, despite the fact participants
answered both questions, alerted me to the fact that using these above and below the line
terms was kind of outdated. I then completed the survey with a third question to confirm this
outdated idea with a large spectrum of opinions: “Is it still accurate to use Above the line and
Below the line terms? Yes or No?” This question in particular was really enriching because
many of those who participated in the survey talked about their feelings regarding this
approach and what they consider to be the ideal one. From these statements a lot of insight
was created, and you can take a look to some of these thoughts in the end of the document.
For the record, I got replies from 260 different persons from about 200 advertising agencies:
they all work in the advertising/marketing industry and you can check on this report, a full list
of agencies that kindly participated on the survey. It was also funny let me say, get replies from
all five continents. Internet is really a bridge to everywhere and was a plus in this research.
Another key element was to make it simple: usually studies have 25 to 30 questions. With my
resources and doing it by email, a survey with that structure would be very hard to attain. So I
chose the simple way, 3 questions, very straightforward.
Next, we can see the results of the first question: Do you consider advertising investment in
cinema, Above the line or Below the line?




20 10,39% 14,23%

Above the line

Below the line
No Answer

Graphic 1: Cinema

As you can see, all the opinions I got before I realize the research, match the feelings of
industry, and only 10.39% of participants think it should belong to the below the line section,
against an heavy 75.38% score of “above liners”. Also, it stands out, that the number of people
who chose not to answer, is superior to those who answered below the line. It has to do with
the fact, that many people who believe that the terms shouldn’t be used - as you will see –
also chose not to answer the first two questions (if you don’t agree with something you can’t
make a reasonable choice). All in all, I must admit to myself, cinema is above the line, despite
the fact that investment in this area is really low.
One interesting argument I received on the above the line cause for cinema, was that most of
the commercials used are originally designed for TV, and then are used in cinema. As such,
cinema is traditionally above the line. Other suggestions for cinema, mostly from people who
answered below the line, is that cinema needs a different approach, more dynamic, more
evolving, since it’s a great vehicle for interaction and it’s a place where advertisers can use the
visual and sound effects as a plus.
Second question, “Do you consider advertising investment on internet, Above the line or
Below the line?”

30 21,93%
20 16,15%
10 14,23%

Above the line

Below the line
No Answer
Other terms

Graphic 2: Internet

This was probably the question where people showed more uncertainty: it’s a relatively recent
field to marketing and fragmentation is more pronounced. Notice that on this question I’ve
added “Other terms”: this happened because many people didn’t choose to answer either
above or below but instead, gave a different input like “depends on the situation”, “sometimes
below, sometimes above”, “trough the line”, “internet is the line”, “both” and so on. None of
them clearly stands off so it wouldn’t be honest to take conclusions on it. Internet is clearly a
field where things are still mixed up, but from what I’ve seen on comments it’s definitely
something that is growing at big speed. On the other hand it seems that the right model is still
to be discovered (if there is one at all). Results show this uncertainty: 47.69% consider it above
the line (usually claiming that the decision is related to the growing importance of internet),
21.93% say it’s below the line, 16.15% chose not to answer and 14.23% chose to leave their
ideas about it, with the terms I quoted before. No line on internet.

The dynamics of internet are very intense: while many have instantly transferred the
advertising contents from existing formats to the new type of media, many understood that
the internet consumer will not hook for a small price. Internet is a world of information,
people don’t need extra noise. Communication strategies need to be integrated - like many
have said in their replies - and the success probably relies in a 360 degrees approach rather a
straight to the point one.

It’s a new world, and the right answers change every five seconds.
Third and last: Is it still accurate to use Above the line and Below the line terms? Yes or No?

80 71,36%


40 26,34%


No Answer

Graphic 3: Should these terms be used?

As I said before, this question was not initially considered but since I was getting too many
replies telling me the terms were outdated, I wanted to confirm it with a larger spectrum of
opinions. It’s quite clear that most of participants – more than two thirds, 71.36% - think that
these terms are part of the past. Reasons given for this is on one hand, the fact that
communications nowadays should be seen in an integrated way or if you wish, into a holistic
perspective. Another reason is related to the big fragmentation we have seen in the last few
years in about every media channel: we got to a point where consumers can actually produce
their own content and it’s a common thing to see anonymous citizens recording a live event
and see those images at eight o’clock on CNN. It’s also notorious that consumers are much
cleverer and demanding than they used to be; like Philip Kotler wrote in his Marketing
Management bible, there was a time where we just had to inform consumers about products.
Then we needed to meet their expectations. Now we need to surprise them and overcome
their expectations. All these facts may have contributed to the blurred line we see today.

Brands are obviously sensible to this phenomenon and marketing strategies now have in
consideration these premises. Advertising as a society’s mirror, reflects this new reality.

In the next page, you can read a few comments on the subject written by participants of the
study regarding these specific changes.

Even so, some still consider – 26.34% - that these terms can be used, since (among other
possible reasons) it’s still a form of differentiation between communication vehicles and may
be handy in situations where you need to illustrate differences between them.
Here you can check some comments about the subject, written by participants of the study.

"Above and below the line distinctions are archaic and offer little value outside of clients
who differentiate media spend in those terms. Saatchi & Saatchi take world changing ideas
and ensure that they communicate through any media at the perfect place and perfect time.
The sooner ATL and BTL are not used to define media the better as the end goal is to use the
power of creativity to drive brand and business objectives for our clients and fill the world
with Lovemarks."
Andrzej K. Moyseowicz, Media Innovation Director for the Saatchi & Saatchi EMEA
(Europe, Middle East & Africa)

"In today’s world it is all about coming up with a great idea that has the power to affect
human behavior. The media situation, and the way we now consume media, entertainment,
and content makes a simple approach like ATL or BTL not valid anymore.
It is so much about delivering acts that give people an experience. No one solution fits all.
Then there is the efficiencies measurement that clients need to justify investments. These
also need to change dramatically if we want to open our client’s minds to less traditional
Anthony Gibson, CEO in Leo Burnett Germany

"I do not believe in Above and Below the Line. I believe in Through the Line. Everything we
do builds brand and everything sells. More or less."
Anna Jensen, ANR BBDO

It doesn’t make sense to use the concept Below/Above the line or media Online/Offline,
since brands need to take in consideration the changing speed of possibilities (in media) in
order to establish a relationship with their potential followers. What’s happening right now
is that most of the people working in advertising are newcomers in this new and highly
fragmented media territory. Best of the best, we have no idea what the future holds.
Martins Vieira Júnior, The Marketing Store

"It’s the internet, it has changed everything. The ultimate convergence technology. Means it
is no longer to think or act as a marketing communicator in segregated linear terms.
The consumer doesn’t anymore. We are in a diverse multi dimensional communications
environment that is both expanding and converging at a blistering pace and it it those
models that are in single distribution dependent that are going to be most challenged."
Mark Cranmer, Isobar
“In the beginning, separation was the principle to follow. TV, print, radio and outdoor on one
side; all the rest, on the other side. Between them we had a line: the above and below.
Today, integration is the rule. Besides, the separation line doesn’t exist any longer, but
millions of them creating touch points between consumers and brands.”

Ricardo Miranda, Brandia Central


A Campbell Ewald Advertisind J

Argiz Advertising D JWT

Arnold Worldwide JWT France
Agency Inc Draftfcb France Jack Morton Hong Kong
Armando Testa DDB Tribal Chicago
AWMedia Deutsch Inc. K
Archibald Ingall Stretton Della Femina/Rotschild/Jeary
Added Value South Africa Partners Kovel/Fuller
Added Value Saffron Hill Duncan/Channon Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw
Added Value Icon Dialogue 141 K. Fernandez & Associates
Aegis Media Kiwano Marketing
Addison E
Access to media L
Austin Williams EuroRSCG Germany
Arc Worldwide EuroRSCG Netherlands Lowe Worldwide
Eric Mower & Associates Leo Burnett Hong Kong
B England Agency Leo Burnett Portugal
Erasmus Partners Leo Burnett Dubai
BBDO Austria Element 79 Leo Burnett India
BBDO Ireland Leo Burnett Slovakia
BBDO RKS F Leo Burnett Latvia
BBDO South Africa Leo Burnett Bulgaria
BBDO Sweden Flyingmachine Leo Burnett Kuwait
BBDO Turkey Feref Leo Burnett Czech Republic
BBDO Lebanon Feather Brooksbank Leo Burnett Germany
BBDO Proximity France Flourish Laird Christianson
B2B Marketing Agency Fuel LM&O
BBH Asia Pacific Lowd&Klea
Borghier/Lowe G
Barker+DZP M
Barrie D’Rozario Murphy Gotham Inc
Brainchild Creative GyroHSR LLC Mccann Switzerland
Bvk Grey Group Mccann Europe
BMRK Solutions Mccann Romania
Big Idea H Mccann Norway
BMB Mccann Japan
Because Havas Media Mccann Hungary
B2D2 Harris Kemp MacLaren Mccann
Head London Marketforce Communications
C HHC Lewis MJ Media
Hauser Group Mike Colling and Company
Chandelier Creative Maxus Global
Calise and Sedei I Mason Zinbler
Conill Mabox
Copywritingcentre Isobar Morrison Agency
Crispin Porter + Boguski Insidewing
Chunk. ISM N
Cerc Intnet
CMW Integer Nekid Communications
Centra Marketing IPN Naked Commnications
Carton Donofrio Partners Image Group Channel Island Now Available Neutral Agency
Creative Union NYCA


Other Advertising Union


Publicis USA VML

Proximity Italia
Proximity Minneapolis W
Porter Novelli Russia
Peak Creative Media Wand
Preston Kelly Wieden+Kennedy
Propaganda Futebol Clube Williams Helde
Robson Brown UK
Radioville -


Saatchi & Saatchi -

M&C Saatchi Australia
SS+K 0
Swordfish Advertising 60w Communications
Souk Communications
Sudler & Henessey
Santa Clara
Sapient Nitro

TBWA Italy
TP Bureau
TDP Advertising
The Foundry Communications
The Advertising Shop
The Marketing Store
The Gate Worldwide
The Brooklyn Brothers
The Hucksters
The Garrygan Lyman Group