“Above the line” (ATL) means marketing that focuses on branding and image, not response and sales.
There are 3 significant differences between a direct response copywriter like me and the ATL copywriters who serve Madison Avenue ad agencies and big consumer brands:
1—The direct response copywriter focuses on sales.
Everything we do is designed to get the cash register to ring – to bring in either an order or a sales lead.
The direct response copywriter has an advantage – namely, the sales results of most of what we write can be measured down to the penny.
Above the line copywriters often have no idea whether their ad moved the sales needle one iota, and so they are operating largely in the dark.
2—Branding people are obsessed with creativity.
Most ATL copywriters I know create advertising that is fun, creative, offbeat, humorous, entertaining, and beautifully designed.
The reason is that their clients, consumer brand managers, like those characteristics in their ads.
The direct response copywriter, as I have said, focuses on results, not aesthetics.
We don’t care whether the consumer likes our ad. We only care that she buys the product.
And long experience shows there is little or no correlation between people liking your ad and buying your product.
3—Branding people are obsessed with originality.
To them the goal is to be creative and original – to come up with a completely new idea or selling approach.
The direct response copywriter takes a different approach: We study what has worked exceptionally well in the past and then model our new promotions after these proven winners.
Most direct response copywriters keep “swipe files” which are collections of ads known to be proven winners.
We know they are proven winners because we see them run again and again. If a promotion bombs, marketers don’t tend to repeat it.
If it pulls like gangbusters, they do.