Is "Below The Line" The New "Above The Line?"

It started while riding the elevator to work, reading one of those fast facts of the day that flash across the info-screen.

According to Forrester, only 18% of people trust brand communications in social. That may already sound bad, but then consider that less than half of people trust any type of advertising/promotion. The full report — The Power of Customer Context — concludes that advertisers need to rethink the way they market themselves. Relying less heavily on the the traditional advertising campaign model, and more on developing a data-driven, interactions-based value exchange platform. That’s a mouthful.

Like so many other case studies in forward-thinking marketing, they use Nike FuelBand and Nike+ as an example. Nike+ is an interactions-based platform that creates a cyclical value exchange. People run with Nike and feel accomplished. When people run, they give data to Nike, who uses it to optimize the platform and improve the experience; thus making people want to continue running.

 One of Nike's biggest successes in recent history wasn't an ad campaign, slogan, or the horizontal expansion of new shoe lines. It was Nike+. A customer interaction platform that is greater than any one product it manufactures or markets (Nike FuelBand, iPhone, Apple Watch, etc.). Have we moved beyond ad campaigns as the greatest influencer on consumer consideration?

One of Nike's biggest successes in recent history wasn't an ad campaign, slogan, or the horizontal expansion of new shoe lines. It was Nike+. A customer interaction platform that is greater than any one product it manufactures or markets (Nike FuelBand, iPhone, Apple Watch, etc.). Have we moved beyond ad campaigns as the greatest influencer on consumer consideration?

That said, whether it be web, mobile (especially mobile), social, or an engagement platform like Nike+, the old way of thinking would relegate all of this to “below the line” marketing. They may be able to tell a compelling story, or provide a valuable utility, but they’re not splashy television spots, print campaigns, or billboard carpetings. And thus, tend not to get those budgets.

The height of commercial storytelling was always found in the hallowed :60 second spot. And in a lot of ways — when done right — that’s still the case; but we know the landscape has fragmented beyond recognition. There are many more ways to tell your brand story; and more and more often, it’s those alternative methods that are changing people's perspectives of the brands they know.

Made-for-web video — like Johnnie Walker’s The Gentleman’s Wager — or something entirely new — such as Old Spice's Choose Your Own Adventure — are finding ways to tell stories with greater relevance and impact than the old methods. While utilities like McCormick’s FlavorPrint — another example from the Forrester report — reveal a useful dimension to brands that simply don’t come across in a commercial.

Don’t get me wrong, TV still accounts for the lion's share of ad spending. But the growth of dollars for digital is continuing to climb, with no signs of slowing. When that scale tips, who remains in the driver’s seat? The innovation, reach, and accountability we’re seeing below the line call into question the disproportionate investment being made above the line.

If we’re to believe people’s trust in the traditional brand building methods is waning, then it’s fair to say that the future of marketing rests on our ability to elicit meaningful interactions while brand storytelling is used to support those engagements. Not the other way around. You're probably already exploring new — "below the line" — ways to tell your brand's story, but consider how you can use your brand to create functional value for its customers. As people diversify their media consumption habits, that one-two punch is where marketers stand to gain the most ground.