Commentary

A Bigger Footprint for Engagement: The Value of the Mid-Tail

Online brand advertisers know about the power of engagement--the more time a user spends with a brand the better--and that engagement potential increases with both the size of creative unit and opportunity for interaction.

Ideally, advertisers should avail themselves of some of the larger creative units and many emerging forms of integration that take advantage of the unique interactive opportunities of the Web, e.g., home page re-skins, microsites, product placement, advertorials, promotions, etc. But the cost of these results in reducing the overall budget for audience reach.

How do online media planners balance the costs of delivering an engaging online creative campaign with the need to achieve maximum reach of target prospects with a minimum amount of waste? They look for space and time that deliver 3 key media value factors: relatively low CPMs, highly targeted Comp Indices, and low-cost creative execution and integration. These values are usually found in abundant supply among "Mid-tail" Web sites.

It's worth spending a moment to define and distinguish this important mid-size area of the internet landscape. A recent review of comScore's Unique Visitor (UV) data shows the total distribution of over 100 million web properties breaking into four distinct sets, each with its own unique features and benefits. These are: the 4 Portals, Top 50 Properties, 1000 Mid-tail properties, and the 100mil+ Long-tail sites. After the 4 Portals, there's a natural break at the head of the distribution curve around 80 mil. UVs/mo. where the Top 50 Properties span a huge area down to about 15 mil. The next section following the Top 50 comprises those 1000 properties that range in size between 15 and 1 mil. UVs/mo., and it is this area that, years ago, Gorilla Nation began referring to as the "Mid-tail." Beyond this, the 100 mil+ Long-tail sites represent what is simply an unmanageable universe of sites only useful through ad networks which have no site-specific publisher relationships and therefore no efficient opportunities for "beyond the banner" creative.

(Special note: that's not to say any site under 1 mil. is not useful to brand advertisers - many sites with fewer UVs/mo. deliver valuable niche audiences and can accommodate integration many brand advertisers can leverage with great success if they know where to look.)

The front end of this spread is quite similar to the TV media model which began with a few broadcast networks, grew to about 50 channels with basic cable, and exploded to 1000 channels with digital cable.

A simple comparison of the Portals, Top 50 and Mid-tail properties reveals the importance of considering all 3 of the aforementioned key media value factors in determining overall efficiency of any online buy. Yes, ROS media placements on the Portals offer low CPMs because their audiences are general in nature, and while very unfocussed, represent a great buy for mass marketers desiring reach without frequency. But if an online brand advertiser wants to do anything especially targeted or unusually creative, then Portals lose their efficiency. The Top 50 CPMs are usually higher than the Portals because they offer a greater degree of target accuracy with less waste, but still do not deliver the highest Comp Indices available. Additionally, as demand for these coveted few increases, larger sites become less flexible in creating integrated media programs that offer brand marketers efficient reach and frequency. This is a key consideration as online media planning becomes more waste-sensitive and concerned with emerging measures of engagement.

The best balance of values today is provided by smart use of the Mid-tail where CPMs are not as cheap as the Portals, but also not as expensive as the Top 50. This cost savings is further highlighted by the fact that the Comp Indices for specific audience segments are higher given the increasingly niched or affinity nature of properties moving down the tail. The reach footprint on Mid-tail properties is therefore considerably larger given lower CPMs with concomitantly lower waste.

But that's not all: for those savvy online marketers looking to take advantage of the unique interactive qualities offered by the web, the costs of Creative Integration throughout the Mid-tail are also much, much lower. To develop and execute a homepage reskin, contest or microsite is considerably cheaper in terms of both dollar and emotional cost. The labor-intensive, internal sales forces employed by the Portals and Top 50 result in effective opportunities for integration, but costs and ability to execute are often restrictive. Mid-tail web publishers are eager to accommodate a huge array of integration applications and therefore not only charge smaller fees but are delighted to do so! The advertiser's creative footprint is therefore considerably larger given the larger amount of space devoted to brand messaging and the potential for interaction. There's just more bang for the buck in every way.

But, shhhhhhhh! Let's keep this whole Mid-tail footprint business our little secret. While the values are here today, just like the Top 50 Properties got too expensive and cluttered as a result of demand, so might the Mid-tail in years to come. So, better step on it!

Agens is SVP/Advertising Sales at Gorilla Nation.

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