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Millward Brown's POV, July 2007

Brand Building Along the Media Long Tail

As people use a wider range of media in their everyday lives, marketers likewise have new options to consider for communicating with them. But in a world keen on rushing us down a growing tail of communication channels, we need to revisit some key principles to ensure that we are wagging that tail and it is not wagging us.

In today's world, modern technology has enabled a wide array of new options for entertainment, information, self-expression and connecting with others. As people gravitate away from their old mass media pursuits toward these newer offerings, they contribute to the creation of a "Media Long Tail," which presents advertisers with an abundance of novel ways to engage their consumers.

The phrase "the long tail" entered the marketing vernacular when it was used by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, as the title of an article in the October 2004 issue of that publication. The article, which was later expanded into a book, described a new business model for media and entertainment industries in the digital world. Borrowing the term from statistics, where it is used to describe a feature of certain distributions, Anderson used "the long tail" to express the idea that the demand for niche products is, overall, larger than the demand for mass market products. The strapline of the article says it all: "Forget squeezing millions from a few megahits at the top of the charts. The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream."

How does the long tail concept apply to the world of media? Clearly, under the peak of the media curve, traditional high-reach media like broadcast TV and newspapers are under pressure. Yet along the tail of the curve, beyond the traditional channels relied on for mass communication, are a multitude of small, potentially highly engaging contexts to consider, such as social networking sites, blogs, and games. Each of these contexts individually has low reach, but when combined, these vehicles may have an impact that rivals traditional TV campaigns. So is the future of communications out there among the myriad niche channels in the Media Long Tail?

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