Above The Line (Short: ATL) advertising contains all different kinds of conventional marketing activities. This means ATL advertising includes every kind of marketing that is distributed through conventional mass media such as the internet but also TV, newspapers, billboards or radio.
This kind of marketing is not delivered to specific consumers but intends to reach a wider spread audience. It is largely untargeted and especially used by big companies to build brand awareness. It is the opposite of BTL (Below the line) marketing, which is delivered to highly targeted, specific consumers.
An advantage of above the line marketing is that you can reach a wide spread audience with a lot less organisational effort compared to below the line marketing.
In the era of digital media, the boundaries between ATL and BTL break more and more. Both target audiences can now be addressed at the same time. New concepts like TTL (Through The Line) are created that combines activities of these two concepts.
Since above the line advertising can lead to confusion regarding their meaning there are some approaches for explanation: It is not finally cleared up where this term comes from. Some say just like every part of a ship that is above the water line, the conventional advertising, is visible for everyone, compared to what is below the water line is only meant for a specific targeted audience.
Others say that conventional marketing campaigns used to be planned first. Every dollar of ad budget left, so everything below the line, could be spend for unconventional marketing methods.