Searching for humanity in a digital ecosystem

Students learn with The Trade Desk to create 21st-century marketing campaigns

Cassidy Hill

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Cal Lutheran senior Cassidy Hill learned how to convey powerful stories to consumers through digital platforms.

In a year when students are frequently stuck at their desks, it’s challenging to immerse them in real-world work scenarios. But a School of Management pilot course on digital marketing has advantages. 

“It is important to understand how to convey your thoughts and clearly communicate through digital platforms, and this class has been a perfect place to do that,” writes senior Cassidy Hill, who was reached by email. “Since our class is smaller, we feel more like a team than a class.”

The instructor, Peter Fernando, came to university teaching after a career with major technology and media companies like Microsoft, Yahoo and Disney ABC Television. He developed his spring pilot course in partnership with The Trade Desk, a publicly held, Ventura-based firm that offers a platform for advertising across internet services and devices. Inviting experts from The Trade Desk as guest facilitators and taking advantage of the company’s internal training tools, BUS 466 is giving seven Cal Lutheran upperclassmen a window on how 21st-century marketing campaigns are created. 

The course is organized around the journey that a customer takes when shopping for a cell phone, ordering fresh vegetables or beauty products, or, in general, picking where to spend.

“Put yourself in a customer’s shoes and ask, ‘Would you go through what they go through? Would you create a product without thinking what they go through?’” explained Fernando over a videoconferencing link.

A customer’s path crosses the internet at numerous places. Of these, BUS 466 focuses primarily on connected television (CTV), or television that is delivered over the internet. For marketers, this is a fast-growing area that offers a lot of bang for the dollar and a glimpse of future trends. 

That’s not only because cable and satellite services have been shedding customers for years, a process that only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital marketing is leaping to the fore as people conduct more of their daily activities with an internet assist, using connected devices that range all the way from phones and game consoles to cars and large appliances. 

For the first major class project, students evaluate a digital product or service with attention to personal interactions and the emotions that go with them. At least one student investigated a company that she knew from inside as an employee, the grocery shopping app Instacart.

“Can we get students to understand the fundamentals of what digital is and how the ecosystem works?” Fernando said. “And when they walk into a company, they won’t have to start from ground zero.”

Students who pursue related careers will have a range of options.

“I can go into social media, which helps a company connect and interact directly with consumers,” said Hill. “There is the more technical side, which includes creating the website and leveraging SEO and SEM (search engine optimization and marketing). Other options are content creating and graphic design.”

She added, “I find myself doing research on my own” outside of the course requirements.

“I know how wonderful technology is,” Fernando said. “But it can also be dangerous if used incorrectly, and we’ve seen many examples of this. I actually teach both sides of the equation. How can you leverage information to make someone’s life in the digital space seamless? But also, how do you watch out to see what’s happening to you when you’re online? People have to know the positives and the negatives, and if you don’t teach them what to watch out for, they may go do things that are not ethically or morally valuable to a brand.”

The course looks at how to tell stories with emotional impact, since having the ability to follow people around the internet is not the same as knowing how to reach them.

“If you don’t know how to tell a story and have good content to back it up, none of this matters. Because consumers don’t have a lot of free time,” Fernando said.

“The attention span of all of us is six to 12 seconds. There’s so much going on in this world. If you don’t grab someone’s attention in 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 60 seconds, you don’t exist.”

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