Oops, the long tail isn’t dead…

It is more like a walking dead – Still exists but doesn’t look good…

the walking dead
the walking dead


So we know by now that the short head is huge and that the long tail is long (walking) dead but the funny thing is that the walking dead long tail is one of the reasons for the short head phenomena.

We have talked about the 2 main reasons for the short head – (1) our nature – we are conformists and we like social proof for the things we do, eat, buy or watch, (2) social media has increased the numbers of interactions that we individuals have each and every day and by doing that it speeds the process of adopting new stuff (I will elaborate in future posts).

 The 3rd reason is the long tail itself.

When a long tail exists and confronts us with too many options to choose from, we tend to say – “you know what? I will just stick with that first one you showed me”.

We don’t have the time, the know-how or the expertise to choose differently. We feel smaller and less secure because there is no chance that we can clearly make a good decision with all these alternatives. Suddenly we are not even sure about our own taste anymore.

The Simpsons - Monstromart
The Simpsons – Monstromart


If there are so many B&B options in the French Riviera the chances of choosing a bad one for our vacation is huge and therefor there is a big risk perception. We don’t like risk. We prefer to let someone else decide for us. That way we also don’t blame ourselves if we are not pleased with what we got.

That is why we download the first flashlight App we find on the App store search results, make reservations in the most popular and recommended restaurants and hotels, choose the same popular T-shirt designs, watch the same YouTube videos etc.

Let’s see what is the most popular video on YouTube right now among 18-24 years old males in NY.

This is the answer:

Now lets see what is the most popular video on YouTube right now in the US in general:

it is the same… not just in NY.

It is everywhere as you can see on YouTube trends map:

youtube trends

We no longer choose – we pick

The Paradox of Choice - Barry Schwartz
The Paradox of Choice – Barry Schwartz

Barry Schwartz who explores how we deal with many choices says in his book, The Paradox of Choice: “Choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize…. the fact that some choice is good doesn’t necessarily mean that more choice is better.”

“The digital generation is picking, and not choosing… With a world of choices rushing by like a music video,” he continues, “all a picker can do is grab this or that and hope for the best.”


The jam example

Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University and the author of “The Art of Choosing” conducted a very interesting experiment to see how people react when they have too many options.

She set up a booth of samples of Wilkin & Sons jams in a big gourmet Supermarket in California. Every few hours, she switched from offering a selection of 6 jams to a group of 24 jams.

The results were interesting:

60% of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40% stopped by the small one, and in both cases the customers tasted two jams on average.

30% of those who had sampled from the small assortment actually bought jam, while only 3% of those confronted with the 24 jams assortment purchased a jar.

“The presence of choice might be appealing as a theory,” said Professor Iyengar, “but in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.”

In her book, Sheena Iyengar gives examples for companies who have shortened their long tail in order to become less confusing for shoppers. Glidden, an American paint brand, reduced its colors palette in 2009 from 1,000 to a 282 because of a change in “Americans’ priorities from ‘more is better’ to ‘less is more’”.

Procter & Gamble, the American consumer-products company, killed 9 Head & Shoulders shampoos (they went from 26 to 15). The result was an increase of 10% in sales.

When you enter L’Astrance, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris, don’t ask for the menu – they don’t have one – the chef Pascal Barbot produces a different ‘surprise menu’ at each sitting.


May the short head be with you! 

The short head is reliable and it is there for you

The more that options multiply and the tail gets longer, the stiffer and taller the short head becomes. The consumers seek something that others trust. That something is a short head winner and it is getting bigger and bigger as they continue buying it.

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