The Display LUMAScape Explained

Ah, the LUMAscape, who in the digital marketing world doesn’t know it as an old friend at this point?

Display LUMAScape

First debuted in 2010 by the ad tech banker Terry Kawaja, the LUMAscape has been through many iterations at this point, adding companies, changing categories and noting acquisitions over the years.  From the very beginning this image was a hit with the digital marketing set as it provided a way to understand a complex industry, as well as a symbol for how difficult it is to work in a space so complex!  The LUMAscape was a great way for ad technology people to explain the growing industry within their own companies in a visual way, as well as understand how new companies were aligned and fit together. Kawaja & team’s image was also a solid way to understand what a whole lot of companies even did, so if you were say, shopping for a data management platform, you could get a quick sense who the four or five companies in the space were.  For Kawaja’s company, LUMA Partners, the LUMAscape was also a great way to show the sheer amount of fragmentation in the industry and possibilities for consolidation through acquisitions, on which his company specializes in advising.

Whatever the motivations, the LUMAscape is an iconic image in the digital marketing industry, and a must-know resource that Kawaja’s company has generously kept up to date for nearly five years now.  But the graphic itself only tells a high-level story and can oversimplify, as the LUMA Partner’s website readily admits, so I thought it could be useful to take this image down one more level and explain some of the nuances and sub-categories within each service.  This article describes what each category coves, what a lot of the companies on the LUMAscape actually do, as well as the differences between key services within specific categories.  For those that are new to the industry, I hope this post not only demystifies this graphic, but gives you a well-rounded sense of how the digital marketing industry functions, and for industry veterans who already know the basics there’s probably still a few things to learn.


Many people already know what an agency is, but for sake of completeness, an agency is a company that works on the Marketer’s behalf to create, place, and buy media. On the LUMAscape there are the massive, global holding companies like WPP and Omnicom which can and do handle anything and everything to do with advertising for the biggest brands in the world, as well as smaller operations like MediaSmith, which focuses exclusively on media planning and media buying in digital, or ReachLocal, which is also a strictly digital operation built to service independent, local businesses.

Agency Trading Desks

Agency Trading Desks, or ATDs as they are sometimes called, offer programmatic media buying as a managed service.  In other words, marketers pay the agency to build / buy the technology required and operate it on their behalf.  Some agencies have built their own technology; WPP’s Xaxis desk would be a prime example, while others have licensed technology from 3rd party DSPs.  Many ATDs are wholly owned and aligned with large agency holding companies, which is why you see those lines on the LUMAscape.  WPP owns Xaxis, Omnicom owns Accuen, Publicis owns Vivaki, and so forth.  That said, agency trading desks can be independent companies and still fit the definition.  Accordant Media and the Trade Desk are examples of independent ATDs.


Retargeting is a familiar concept to most folks; who hasn’t been online shopping, only to see that store’s ads start to follow them around the rest of the internet?  Retargeting is a core strategy for almost every brand in the digital space, and companies in this space are specialized to perform this function.  Some companies, like Criteo, are full-service experts in optimization and have large global operations to support the largest marketers, and often preferential access to inventory given their scale and spend.  Other companies like Magnetic built their name on search retargeting, or TellApart specialize in predictive modeling to find new customers based on what they can see from existing customers.  Still others position themselves as experts in cross-device retargeting, or local retargeting. This box in particular represents a large piece of the industry.

Creative Optimization

I’ve written about dynamic creative optimization here before, and this box on the LUMAscape is about just that – helping marketers discover what creative assets perform best, and automatically test and optimize toward those versions.  The simplest example of this would be if a consumer put a pair of shoes in their shopping cart but then left the site without buying them, a marketer might want to serve an ad to that same consumer with an image of the exact product to try and convince them to make a purchase.  Imagine that on a scale of millions of consumers shopping for hundreds of thousands of different items and you need a tool that can automatically match the product (with its respective image and price) to the user, and then test different calls to action, or color schemes, or even pricing to see what is most likely to make a customer come back and purchase.

Companies like Dappr and Teracent were quickly snapped up (by Yahoo! and Google, respectively), but the ones that are still independent, such as Certona, often optimize not only advertising, but landing pages and product recommendations on the marketers’ site as well.  Others like AdReady help a marketer take a few common images and text assets and quickly build out a version in every standard IAB format.

Ad Servers (Marketer Side)

Ad servers are the engine room of digital advertising – for marketers they count ad exposures for billing purposes with publishers and centralize campaign reporting across multiple publishers.  DoubleClick’s DART for Advertisers is the leader here, but other players in the market like PointRoll, EyeWonder, and Pictela specialize in serving rich media creative assets, which typically have more complicated tracking mechanisms in place.  These systems are usually referred to as 4th party ad servers, especially by publishers because they are critical for ads to serve, but not the system that counts for billing purposes.  You can read more here about why publishers and advertisers have different ad servers for more detail.

Verification and Privacy

A fairly niche corner of the space, verification and privacy ad technology tends to support the technical needs of Ad Ops people in particular.  There’s a wide variety of companies included in this section of the LUMAscape – DoubleVerify & AdSafe tend to align more with advertisers looking to ensure the publisher has targeted their ad correctly and is delivering it on brand safe inventory, and can even prevent the ad from serving if the page doesn’t pass muster.

Other companies like Ad-Juster help automate publisher billing processes that require publishers to pull reports from many agency systems on a regular basis to measure campaign pacing and generate final invoices and is the only company in the space that handles that service.   Still others like the Media Trust and Adometry specialize in scanning ad tags for malware and malicious scripts that harm users, validate advertiser compliance to publisher ad specs, and even monitor for data collection tags. And finally, companies like TRUSTe and Evidon provide services to help advertisers and publishers alike give consumers notice on when they are being shown ads based on behavioral tracking, as well as the technology behind opt-out solutions to stay in compliance with NAI standards and privacy policies.

DSPs (Demand Side Platforms)

I’ve written extensively about Demand Side Platforms here, but these are the technologies that enable marketers to bid and buy inventory in real time from publishers.  DSPs provide the tools for marketers to create campaigns, set date ranges, targeting criteria, and price caps that determine when and who they want to buy, and how much they want to spend.  These technologies also provide access to supply by integrating with ad exchanges and supply side platforms and are a core component of programmatic media buying.
Most of the companies (TURN, MediaMath, DataXu) provide these buying services across many types of media, including display, mobile, and video, though their heritage tends to be in display. Other companies like Efficient Frontier, now part of Adobe, specialize in programmatic buying across social platforms (such as Facebook).  Nanigans would be the leading independent company for programmatic media buying through social channels today, and then there are others that specialize in video (TubeMogul, Videology), mobile (Adelphic, Tapad), or even native advertising (Visible).


  1. Hi Ben,

    I don’t usually leave comments, but I can’t help how worthwhile your articles are.
    I was recently hired into an ad ops role and I’m still in the training stage. Unfortunately, there isn’t much material in place for me to learn except when I directly ask our senior ad ops person and oftentimes, they’re too busy to help me.

    Please don’t stop sharing your knowledge, it means a lot to us.

  2. Thanks Melanie! I’m glad you’ve found the site to be a resource – feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments section in the future.

  3. Hi Ben,

    Just a quick comment to echo the sentiment Melanie shared. I’ve been a loyal reader of this blog for years and have found it to be incredibly useful and valuable in understanding the Ad Op/Tech side of the business. I appreciate your time and efforts in sharing your experience and knowledge on these topics. Thanks and keep it coming!


  4. Hey Ben,

    Im currently working as an intern in a Video+Display Programmatic Advertising Agency. I have to come up with pricing metrics for the different companies within the industry. I’ve found so little information since then. Any suggestions ?

  5. Hm, what do you mean by ‘pricing metrics’ – like, what the typical rates are for various services, or the going rates for specific types of media, or something else?

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