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How programmatic advertising works

Programmatic Advertising Unraveled: How It Works and Why It Matters

Are you confused about how programmatic advertising works? Then this is the place to get answers! ...

They say you target nobody when you advertise your offerings (product/service) to everybody.

As a brand/business owner, you surely do not want this for your advertising campaigns! You want them to reach the right pair of eyeballs, which refers to the individuals or groups most likely to be interested in your product or service at the right time and bring in the ROI you expected. 

While traditional advertising channels such as TV, radio, print, and outdoor have existed for quite some time, programmatic advertising has truly changed the game in the age of digital buying and selling of data-driven, personalized ads.

If you are new to this innovative way of buying and selling advertisements in the digital space and seek to understand its workings and implications, this is the place to be!

In this blog, we will walk you through the following:

  • What does programmatic advertising mean?
  • Types of programmatic advertising
  • How does programmatic advertising work?
  • Programmatic vs. traditional advertising
  • Benefits of programmatic advertising

After reading the piece, you will be better positioned to switch your business ad campaigns from traditional advertising channels to programmatic advertising. 

Let’s get the ball rolling!


What does programmatic advertising mean?

Programmatic advertising is a method of buying and selling digital ads using automated systems and technology. Instead of humans negotiating ad deals, computers use algorithms to decide which ads to show to which people in real-time.

These data-driven technologies enable advertisers to target specific audiences precisely and efficiently, optimizing ad placements for maximum effectiveness.

This translates into greater ROI from your ad campaigns and less hassle!

Types of programmatic advertising

Programmatic advertising encompasses several types and methods designed to meet different marketing objectives and strategies. Here are the main types of programmatic advertising:

1. Real-Time Bidding (RTB)

Real-time bidding (RTB) is an auction-based method in which ad impressions are bought and sold in real-time. It’s the most common type of programmatic advertising, allowing advertisers to bid for impressions as they become available.

  • Open auctions: Also known as open exchanges, these are public auctions where multiple advertisers can bid on available ad inventory.
  • Private auctions: Similar to open auctions but invite-only, allowing selected advertisers to bid on premium inventory.

2. Programmatic Direct

Programmatic Direct involves buying ad space directly from publishers without the auction process. This can be further broken down into:

  • Preferred deals: Advertisers buy ad impressions at a fixed price before being available on the open market. This ensures premium placement and targeted reach.
  • Programmatic guaranteed: This is similar to traditional direct deals but automated. The advertiser buys a fixed number of impressions at a predetermined price, ensuring guaranteed ad placements.

3. Private Marketplaces (PMPs)

Private Marketplaces are invite-only RTB auctions where premium publishers make their ad inventory available to select advertisers. This offers more control over where ads appear and often provides access to higher-quality inventory.

4. Automated Guaranteed

This is a form of Programmatic Direct where the buying and selling process is automated, but the terms are negotiated directly between the advertiser and publisher. It combines the benefits of automation with the assurance of direct deals.

5. Header Bidding

Header Bidding allows publishers to offer inventory to multiple ad exchanges simultaneously before making calls to their ad servers. This increases competition among advertisers and often results in higher revenues for publishers.

6. Dynamic Creative Optimization (DCO)

DCO uses data to create personalized ad creatives in real time. It dynamically assembles ad components (images, text, call-to-actions) based on user data and context, delivering highly relevant and engaging ads.

7. Programmatic TV

Programmatic TV extends the principles of programmatic advertising to television. It allows advertisers to buy TV ads using automated systems and data-driven targeting, offering more precise audience segmentation than traditional TV ad buying.

8. Programmatic Audio

This involves automated buying and selling of audio ad inventory, such as ads on music streaming services, podcasts, and digital radio. It enables targeted audio ads based on user data and listening behavior.

9. Programmatic Out-of-Home (OOH)

Programmatic OOH applies programmatic technology to digital out-of-home advertising (billboards, transit ads, etc.). It allows advertisers to buy and optimize digital OOH ad space using real-time data and automated processes.

10. Programmatic Mobile

This refers to the automated buying and selling of mobile ad inventory. It uses mobile-specific data (like location) to target users with relevant smartphone and tablet ads.

Now that we know the basics of programmatic advertising and its different types let’s explore how it works.

How does programmatic advertising work?

Programmatic advertising automates the buying and selling of digital ad space using sophisticated software, algorithms, and real-time bidding (RTB) processes. Here’s a detailed look at how programmatic advertising works:

1. Ad inventory and publishers

Publishers (such as websites, apps, and platforms) have digital ad space known as ad inventory. They use Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs) to manage and sell this inventory. SSPs help publishers maximize their revenue by allowing multiple advertisers to bid on their ad space.

2. Advertisers and Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs)

Advertisers (companies or brands) use Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs) to purchase ad space. DSPs enable advertisers to manage multiple ad exchanges and data exchange accounts through one interface. Advertisers set their campaign parameters, such as target audience, budget, and goals, within the DSP.

3. Real-Time Bidding (RTB)

When a user visits a website or opens an app with available ad space, the following steps occur almost instantaneously:

  • Ad request: The publisher’s website or app sends an ad request to the ad exchange, including information about the user (e.g., demographics, interests, browsing history) and the ad space.
  • Bid request: The ad exchange forwards this information to multiple DSPs, initiating a real-time auction.
  • Bidding: DSPs analyze the bid request data and decide how much to bid for the ad impression based on the advertiser’s targeting criteria and budget. This process involves sophisticated algorithms that evaluate the user’s data and the potential value of the impression.
  • Auction: The highest bid wins the auction, and the ad exchange notifies the winning DSP.
  • Ad delivery: The winning DSP sends the ad creative to the publisher’s website or app, displaying the ad to the user. This entire process takes place in milliseconds, often while the webpage or app is still loading.

4. Data and targeting

Programmatic advertising leverages various data sources to enhance targeting precision:

  • First-Party Data: Information collected directly by the advertiser or publisher from their own audience (e.g., website analytics, CRM data).
  • Second-Party Data: Data shared between trusted partners, often through direct agreements.
  • Third-Party Data: Aggregated data purchased from external providers that offer extensive information on user behavior, demographics, and interests.

This data helps advertisers target specific audiences more accurately, ensuring that ads are relevant and personalized.

5. Ad formats and channels

Programmatic advertising can deliver various ad formats across multiple channels, including:

  • Display Ads: Banner ads on websites and apps.
  • Video Ads: Pre-roll, mid-roll, and post-roll ads on video content.
  • Mobile Ads: Ads optimized for smartphones and tablets.
  • Social Media Ads: Programmatic buying on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
  • Connected TV (CTV) Ads: Ads on internet-connected TV platforms.
  • Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) Ads: Ads on digital billboards and other outdoor digital displays.

6. Optimization and reporting

DSPs continuously analyze performance data throughout the campaign and adjust bidding strategies to optimize results. Key metrics tracked include:

  • Impressions: Number of times the ad is displayed.
  • Clicks: Number of times the ad is clicked.
  • Conversions: Actions taken by users after clicking the ad, such as making a purchase or filling out a form.
  • Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): Revenue generated from the ad campaign relative to the cost.

Advertisers receive detailed reports on their campaign performance, allowing them to make data-driven decisions and refine their strategies. 

Are you curious about how programmatic advertising differs from traditional methods of advertising? Well, that’s coming right up!

Programmatic vs. traditional advertising

Let’s compare programmatic advertising with traditional advertising across various aspects:

1. Ad buying process:

  • Traditional advertising: Ad space is typically bought and sold through direct negotiations between advertisers and publishers. Deals are often made through sales teams or advertising agencies, and negotiations can be time-consuming.
  • Programmatic advertising: Programmatic advertising automates the ad buying process through real-time auctions and algorithms. Ad space is bought and sold in milliseconds, allowing for quick and efficient transactions without the need for human intervention.

2. Targeting and personalization:

  • Traditional advertising: Traditional advertising often relies on broad demographic targeting and assumes a general audience for the ad. Personalization is limited, and ads may not be tailored to specific interests or behaviors.
  • Programmatic advertising: Programmatic advertising enables precise targeting and personalization based on real-time data about the audience. Advertisers can target specific demographics, interests, behaviors, and individual users, resulting in more relevant and personalized ads.

3. Reach and scale:

  • Traditional advertising: Traditional advertising channels such as TV, radio, print, and outdoor have fixed inventory and limited reach. Advertisers may need to buy ad space across multiple channels to reach a broad audience.
  • Programmatic advertising: Programmatic advertising offers access to vast ad inventory across digital channels, including websites, apps, social media, and more. Advertisers can reach a highly targeted audience at scale, maximizing their reach and exposure.

4. Cost and efficiency:

  • Traditional advertising: Traditional advertising can be costly, with ad rates based on factors such as media placement, audience size, and time slots. Advertisers may need to commit to minimum spends and long-term contracts.
  • Programmatic advertising: Programmatic advertising offers cost-effective pricing models such as real-time bidding (RTB) and cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM). Advertisers can optimize their ad spend and achieve better ROI through data-driven targeting and optimization.

5. Measurement and analytics:

  • Traditional advertising: Measuring the effectiveness of traditional advertising can be challenging, with limited insights into ad performance and audience engagement. Metrics such as reach, frequency, and brand awareness may be tracked, but attribution can be difficult.
  • Programmatic advertising: Programmatic advertising provides detailed analytics and real-time insights into ad performance, audience engagement, and conversion metrics. Advertisers can track key performance indicators (KPIs), such as impressions, clicks, conversions, and return on ad spend (ROAS), to measure campaign effectiveness and optimize performance.

6. Flexibility and agility:

  • Traditional advertising: Traditional advertising campaigns often require long lead times for planning, production, and distribution. Making changes or adjustments to campaigns mid-flight can be cumbersome and costly.
  • Programmatic advertising: Programmatic advertising offers greater flexibility and agility, allowing advertisers to adjust campaigns based on performance data. Advertisers can optimize bidding strategies, creative assets, and targeting parameters on the fly, maximizing campaign effectiveness and responsiveness to market changes. While traditional advertising still plays a significant role in the marketing mix, programmatic advertising offers advertisers greater efficiency, precision, and agility in reaching and engaging their target audience in today’s digital landscape.

Benefits of programmatic advertising

Programmatic advertising benefits are varied, offering businesses a data-driven approach to optimize their ad reach and ROIs. Let’s explore them in greater detail.

  1. Precision targeting: Programmatic advertising allows advertisers to target specific audiences precisely based on demographics, interests, behaviors, and contextual relevance. This enables users to have more relevant and personalized ad experiences.
  2. Cost efficiency: It optimizes ad spend by automating the buying process and leveraging data-driven insights to maximize ROI. Advertisers can allocate budgets more effectively and optimize campaign performance in real-time.
  3. Scale and reach: It offers access to vast ad inventory across multiple channels, devices, and publishers. Advertisers can reach audiences at scale and expand their reach across diverse digital platforms and formats.
  4. Real-time optimization: This enables real-time monitoring and optimization of ad campaigns based on performance metrics such as impressions, clicks, conversions, and engagement rates. 
  5. Transparency and accountability: Programmatic advertising provides transparency into ad placements, performance metrics, and campaign outcomes. Advertisers have visibility into where their ads are displayed, how they perform, and the return on investment (ROI) generated.

The road ahead

If you want to outsource your digital advertising requirements and seek the factors to lookout for in the right partner agency, then we have a guide for that as well!

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Naina Sandhir - Content Writer

A content writer at Mavlers, Naina pens quirky, inimitable, and damn relatable content after an in-depth and critical dissection of the topic in question. When not hiking across the Himalayas, she can be found buried in a book with spectacles dangling off her nose!

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