“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Image credit: LUMA Partners

The above is Terance Kawaja’s famous Display Advertising Landscape slide. The first time I saw him speak about the topic was at the May 2010 Networks & Exchanges: IAB Marketplace conference. The visual truly blew my mind. While the slide isn’t all-inclusive, and the landscape may have shifted a bit in the past two years, I feel it still paints a very accurate picture. With so many players sitting between advertisers and publishers, we may never fully understand how a dollar gets spent.

I know a lot of the companies on this slide. Most perform great services that can help both sides hit their goals and create value. But the visual of the advertising landscape made me think of the night sky. While gorgeous, the trillions and trillions of stars illuminate how much we don’t know and how much time it would take to understand it all. When things go wrong in a display campaign, when things are dark, it’s at that point that you realize how many moving parts there can be. Efficiency is gone.

It’s been two years since I first understood just how complex the display advertising landscape has become. And things haven’t improved too much since then. I’ve spent my career on the advertiser side of things (in-house and agency). But I’d feel the same way on the publisher side as well. I want an easy-to-use platform where I can buy premium inventory, participate in real time bidding, serve ads, control frequency at a global level, and optimize across everything. As it stands right now, there is no perfect solution. There have been great strides towards the promised lands, but nothing is perfect.

My hope that is within the next two years we can see a lot more consolidation within Terrance’s slide. I don’t believe that one company should have all the pieces either. But a smattering of full-service platforms competing against each other would be my perfect situation. The biggest hurdle to my dream scenario is plugging premium inventory into the equation. There have been strides here as well, but it’s still too hard to control frequency across premium buys and RTB. Make it easier, and advertisers will spend more.

When things run smoothly, most people don’t bother to pay attention to the details. Everything’s great, so why rock the boat, right? But when the bad times start, when everything once thought to be great shows its weakness, THAT is when most react. Instead, don’t wait for the dark to illuminate the stars. Know that they are there all of the time and understand as much as you can. Until the landscape shrinks enough to become more manageable, simply know inefficiency exists. Tell Emerson that you can see the stars without the dark.

Sean Nowlin, Senior Display Media Manager


  1. PPCAssociates June 7th, 2012

    The #Display Galaxy – Efficiency Lost: http://t.co/1GjspYsY http://t.co/RvaKDtEi

  2. toddmintz June 7th, 2012

    The Display Galaxy: Efficiency Lost | PPC Associates Blog http://t.co/8V6fs11V

  3. rodnitzky June 8th, 2012

    The Display Galaxy: Efficiency Lost – “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” Ralph Waldo Emerson The above… http://t.co/9FWOhm7b

  4. ThinkFirstWeb June 8th, 2012

    The Display Galaxy: Efficiency Lost http://t.co/0NvL8Vgu

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Sean Nowlin
Sean Nowlin has worked in the sales and marketing industry since 2000. Before joining 3Q Digital in February 2012, he spent three years running display campaigns for Progressive Insurance, a top-10 digital advertiser. Sean’s display expertise consists of managing premium publisher relationships, ad networks, Demand Side Platforms, ad verification, and Online Behavioral Advertising compliance. He has a B.A. in Marketing from Cleveland State University and an M.B.A from Weatherhead School of Management – Case Western Reserve University. Sean enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, loves technology, and is a die-hard Cleveland sports fan (Indians, Browns, and Cavs). Sean's insights on display have appeared on several well read outlets, including SearchEngineJournal.com, AdRoll.com, and Retargeter.com.