The Long Tail Has Destroyed Mass Media
Entering the same room in which I sat somewhere around 1998 or 1999 when then head of Leo Burnett promised "not on my watch" will Leo Burnett ever go public, I thought, "my how times have changed." The room, however, is exactly the same; dark and lit like a carnival ride.
As ad:tech Chair Drew Ianni took the stage to introduce Wired Magazine Editor in Chief Chris Anderson who was the keynote speaker at ad:tech Chicago, he introduced something else, ad:tech's new working tagline "The Event for Modern Marketing" and gave an overview of ad:tech's expansion into other overseas markets as well as the growth of the online marketing space in general to its current level $20B.
The major theme of Anderson's speech was the notion mass media was an anomaly and our current world of fragmentation, niche interests and the resulting Long Tail is the norm. Before mass media existed, humans naturally fell into small niches caused partially by geographic separation and partially by natural individual interests. Mass media temporarily pulled together people who, given natural individuality, wouldn't normally find themselves together.
With the rise of the Internet, social media, online retail and the proliferation of every possible niche topic, people have returned to the natural state of things. This doesn't mean mass media is dead. It's not. It still plays an important role but its monopolistic hold on people is fast eroding.
Anderson even pegged the date of the turning point: March 21, 2000. On that date, Nsych debuted their No Strings Attached album which went on to sell 10 million copies, a record that, according to Anderson, will never be beat. The individualization of music, whether from Napster back in the day or iTunes and Walmart, the era of mass media and the blockbuster is over. There's simply too much choice from which individuals can choose to suit their individual tastes. Anderson calls this the "radical redistribution" of consumption or the fragmentation of retail markets. People are buying more but less of the same thing. They are suiting their individuality instead of buying what everyone else buys because it was the only thing marketed or distributed.
Anderson examined the proverbial bell curve and noted. Whereas it made no sense for manufacturers to make, market and distribute their products to the 20 percent of the people in the middle of the curve who were easy to market too, the Long Tail has made the other 80 percent of people a market as captive as the 20 percent once was.
Even major marketer Anheuseur Busch realized this and, rather than distributing just a few major products, now distributes hundreds to serve every individual beer drinkers palate.
And in a nod to the socialization of media and the consumer control of it, Anderson offered up an important piece of wisdom: Your brand isn't what you say it is. It's what Google says it is. Indeed.