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    Programmatic Advertising: Everything You Need to Know


    Often times, a marketer’s ability to remain agile is what gives them the advantage. Marketers will try to achieve this by any means necessary, and will always try to improve efficiency in every aspect of their operations. Programmatic advertising gives them this advantage. 

    Programmatic advertising is an automated method of buying and selling digital ad space in real-time, that ensures that ads are delivered to the right people at the right time. This not only maximizes efficiency but also enhances targeting. In this guide, we will go into the intricacies of programmatic advertising, covering everything you need to know.

    Table of Contents

    What is Programmatic Advertising?

    Programmatic advertising is an advanced method of digital ad buying that uses automated technology to purchase ad space in real-time. Unlike traditional methods that require manual negotiations, insertion orders, and human decision-making, programmatic advertising relies on real-time bidding (RTB) to serve the most relevant ads to specific audiences. This automated approach streamlines the ad buying process, making it more efficient and effective.

    The core of programmatic advertising lies in its ability to use data to make real-time decisions. When a user visits a website, their data is collected and analyzed by a demand-side platform (DSP). The DSP evaluates the user’s profile and bids on the available ad impression in an auction held on an ad exchange, which connects advertisers with publishers. The highest bid wins, and the ad is instantly displayed to the user. This entire process, from data collection to ad serving, happens within milliseconds, allowing for highly efficient and precise targeting.

    Programmatic advertising was over $243 billion in 2024. By 2026, it is expected to be over $300 billion. This rapid growth underscores the increasing reliance on automation to drive digital marketing strategies.

    Programmatic advertising encompasses various types of ads, including display ads, video ads, social media ads, native ads, mobile ads, audio ads, digital out-of-home (DOOH) ads, connected TV (CTV) ads, and search engine marketing (SEM). Each type of ad offers unique benefits and opportunities for advertisers to reach their target audiences effectively.

    “Great marketing means knowing your audience, talking to your target personas, and building your content strategy around them.” – Rocío Arrarte, EMEA senior marketing manager at Diligent. Programmatic advertising allows marketers to make sure that their ads are being placed with the right audience. 

    How Programmatic Advertising Works

    Programmatic advertising operates through an automated process that involves several key steps:

    1. User Visit and Data Collection: When a user visits a website, their data, such as browsing history, demographics, and interests, is collected by tracking technologies like cookies and pixels.
    2. Real-Time Bidding (RTB) Process: The collected data is sent to a demand-side platform (DSP), which analyzes the user’s profile and determines the value of the ad impression. The DSP then places a bid on the impression in an auction held on an ad exchange.
    3. Ad Serving and Display: The highest bid wins the auction, and the ad is instantly served to the user. This process happens within milliseconds, ensuring that the user sees the most relevant ad at the right time.
    4. Role of Algorithms and Machine Learning: Advanced algorithms and machine learning play a crucial role in programmatic advertising by continuously optimizing bids and targeting based on real-time data and performance metrics.

    Types of Programmatic Ads

    Programmatic advertising includes various types of ads, each tailored to different platforms and audience behaviors. Here are the main types of programmatic ads:

    1. Display Ads: These are the most common form of programmatic advertising, consisting of graphical ads that appear on websites across the internet. They can range from simple banners to rich media ads that include interactive elements.
    2. Video Ads: Video ads are highly engaging and can be inserted before, during, or after video content on platforms like YouTube or embedded within websites. These ads leverage the engaging nature of video content to capture user attention.
    3. Social Media Ads: Programmatic technology is also used to buy and place ads on social media platforms, allowing advertisers to leverage the extensive user data available on these networks to target ads more effectively.
    4. Native Ads: Native advertising involves ads that match the look, feel, and function of the media format in which they appear. These are designed to blend in with the content surrounding them, making them less intrusive and often more engaging.
    5. Mobile Ads: With the increasing use of smartphones and tablets, mobile ads have become a crucial part of programmatic advertising. These can include display and video ads tailored for mobile devices, as well as ads within mobile apps.
    6. Audio Ads: Programmatic audio advertising has gained traction with the rise of streaming music services and podcasts. These ads are delivered to listeners between songs or segments, offering a new channel for reaching audiences.
    7. Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) Ads: DOOH refers to digital advertising that appears on outdoor screens, such as digital billboards, public transport displays, and screens in places like malls and airports. Programmatic technology is increasingly being used to buy DOOH inventory, allowing for more dynamic and targeted advertising campaigns.
    8. Connected TV (CTV) and Over-the-Top (OTT) Ads: As more viewers shift from traditional TV to streaming services, CTV and OTT ads have emerged as a significant programmatic channel. These ads are shown on smart TVs and devices that stream digital content, offering targeted opportunities similar to online advertising.
    9. Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Though not traditionally grouped with other programmatic advertising types, SEM can be considered part of the broader programmatic ecosystem due to its use of algorithms and real-time bidding for ad placement on search engine results pages.

    For more info about the basics of programmatic advertising visit this article, Programmatic Advertising: Revolutionizing Digital Marketing.

    Key Components of Programmatic Advertising

    Demand-Side Platform (DSP)

    A Demand-Side Platform (DSP) is a crucial component of programmatic advertising. DSPs are software systems that allow advertisers to buy digital ad inventory from multiple sources, such as ad exchanges and supply-side platforms (SSPs), through a single interface. The primary function of a DSP is to facilitate the real-time bidding (RTB) process, enabling advertisers to place bids on ad impressions as they become available. DSPs offer several key benefits:

    • Efficiency: DSPs streamline the ad buying process by providing access to a vast range of ad inventory from various publishers and ad exchanges.
    • Targeting: DSPs use sophisticated algorithms and data to target specific audiences based on demographics, behavior, interests, and location.
    • Optimization: DSPs provide real-time analytics and reporting, allowing advertisers to monitor campaign performance and make data-driven optimizations.

    Some popular DSPs include Google Display & Video 360, The Trade Desk, MediaMath, and Amazon Advertising.

    Supply-Side Platform (SSP)

    A Supply-Side Platform (SSP) is the counterpart to a DSP, serving the needs of publishers. SSPs are software platforms that enable publishers to manage and sell their ad inventory to advertisers. The primary function of an SSP is to optimize the selling of ad impressions, ensuring that publishers maximize their revenue. SSPs connect to multiple ad exchanges, DSPs, and ad networks, allowing publishers to reach a broader pool of potential buyers. Key features of SSPs include:

    • Inventory Management: SSPs help publishers manage their ad inventory, setting prices and determining which inventory is available for programmatic buying.
    • Yield Optimization: SSPs use algorithms to analyze demand and set optimal prices for ad impressions, maximizing publisher revenue.
    • Transparency: SSPs provide detailed reporting and analytics, giving publishers insights into ad performance and buyer behavior.

    Popular SSPs include Google Ad Manager, PubMatic, OpenX, and Magnite.

    Ad Exchanges

    Ad exchanges are the digital marketplaces where advertisers and publishers buy and sell ad inventory. They act as intermediaries, facilitating the real-time bidding (RTB) process and connecting DSPs with SSPs. Ad exchanges play a vital role in programmatic advertising by providing a transparent and efficient platform for transactions. Key functions of ad exchanges include:

    • Auction Management: Ad exchanges manage the RTB auctions, determining the winning bids and facilitating the transaction between buyers and sellers.
    • Inventory Aggregation: Ad exchanges aggregate ad inventory from multiple publishers, providing a wide range of options for advertisers.
    • Transparency and Control: Ad exchanges offer detailed reporting and analytics, ensuring that both advertisers and publishers have visibility into the transaction process.

    Prominent ad exchanges include Google Ad Exchange, AppNexus, and Rubicon Project.

    Real-Time Bidding (RTB)

    Real-Time Bidding (RTB) is the main method that facilitates programmatic advertising. RTB is a process where ad impressions are bought and sold in real-time auctions, taking place within milliseconds as a user loads a web page or app. The RTB process involves several steps:

    1. User Visit: A user visits a website or app, triggering an ad request.
    2. Bid Request: The publisher’s SSP sends a bid request to multiple ad exchanges and DSPs, providing information about the user and the available ad impression.
    3. Bidding: DSPs analyze the bid request and determine the value of the impression based on the user’s profile. Advertisers place bids through the DSPs.
    4. Auction: The ad exchange conducts an auction, selecting the highest bid.
    5. Ad Serving: The winning ad is served to the user in real-time.

    RTB offers several advantages, including cost efficiency, precise targeting, and the ability to adjust bids based on real-time data.

    Learn more about Programmatic IO: The Future of Digital Advertising Efficiency.

    programmatic advertising real time bidding

    Setting Up a Programmatic Advertising Campaign

    Establishing Campaign Goals

    Before covering the technicalities of programmatic advertising, it’s crucial to establish clear and measurable campaign goals. These goals will guide your strategy and help you determine the metrics for success. Here are some common objectives for programmatic advertising campaigns:

    • Brand Awareness: Increase the visibility of your brand to a broad audience.
    • Lead Generation: Attract potential customers and collect their information for future engagement.
    • Sales and Conversions: Drive direct sales or conversions through targeted advertising.
    • Customer Retention: Re-engage existing customers and encourage repeat business.
    • Product Launches: Promote new products or services to generate interest and initial sales.

    Once you have defined your goals, you can set specific key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure your success. For example, if your goal is to increase brand awareness, relevant KPIs might include impressions, reach, and brand recall surveys.

    Choosing the Right Platforms and Tools

    Selecting the appropriate platforms and tools is vital for the success of your programmatic advertising campaign. The primary tools include Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs) and Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs). Here’s how to choose the right ones:

    • DSP Selection: Consider factors such as ease of use, targeting capabilities, integration with other marketing tools, and cost. Some popular DSPs include Google Display & Video 360, The Trade Desk, MediaMath, and Amazon Advertising.
    • SSP Selection: If you are a publisher, choose SSPs that offer robust yield optimization, transparency, and a wide network of demand sources. Popular SSPs include Google Ad Manager, PubMatic, OpenX, and Magnite.

    Additionally, consider using third-party ad verification tools to ensure transparency and brand safety, and analytics tools to track and analyze campaign performance.

    Budgeting and Bidding Strategies

    Effective budgeting and bidding strategies are essential for maximizing the ROI of your programmatic campaigns. Here are some key considerations:

    • Determine Your Budget: Allocate your budget based on your campaign goals and expected ROI. Ensure that you have enough budget to achieve meaningful results but remain flexible to adjust as needed based on performance.
    • Bidding Strategies: Choose a bidding strategy that aligns with your goals. Common bidding strategies include:
      • Cost Per Mille (CPM): Pay for every thousand impressions. Ideal for brand awareness campaigns.
      • Cost Per Click (CPC): Pay for each click on your ad. Suitable for lead generation and conversion-focused campaigns.
      • Cost Per Acquisition (CPA): Pay for each conversion or acquisition. Best for sales and direct response campaigns.
    • Dynamic Bidding: Use real-time data to adjust bids dynamically, ensuring that you are bidding the optimal amount for each impression based on its value.

    Measuring Success

    To ensure the effectiveness of your programmatic advertising campaign, it’s crucial to measure and analyze performance continuously. Here are some key metrics to track:

    • Impressions: The number of times your ad is displayed. Important for brand awareness.
    • Clicks: The number of times users click on your ad. Relevant for engagement and lead generation.
    • Conversions: The number of desired actions taken by users, such as purchases or sign-ups. Essential for measuring ROI.
    • Click-Through Rate (CTR): The ratio of clicks to impressions. Indicates the effectiveness of your ad in driving engagement.
    • Cost Per Acquisition (CPA): The cost of acquiring a customer or conversion. Helps measure the efficiency of your spending.
    • Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): The revenue generated from your ad campaign relative to the cost. Critical for assessing overall profitability.

    By regularly monitoring these metrics, you can identify areas for improvement and optimize your campaigns to achieve better results.

    Example of Key Metrics Table





    Number of times the ad is displayed

    Measure reach and brand awareness


    Number of clicks on the ad

    Gauge engagement


    Number of desired actions taken by users

    Assess direct response and sales

    Click-Through Rate (CTR)

    Ratio of clicks to impressions

    Evaluate ad effectiveness

    Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)

    Cost of acquiring a customer or conversion

    Measure spending efficiency

    Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)

    Revenue generated relative to ad spend

    Determine profitability


    Programmatic advertising has forever changed digital marketing by automating the ad buying process. This method not only saves time and resources but also significantly improves the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.

    Setting up a successful programmatic advertising campaign can help marketers reach their target audiences more effectively, optimize their ad spend, and ultimately drive superior results for their businesses.

    At Adcore, we specialize in managing programmatic advertising campaigns, leveraging our expertise to help businesses achieve their marketing goals. With our help, we can ensure that your ads are precisely targeted and efficiently executed. Don’t let your competitors outpace you— contact Adcore today to discover how we can elevate your digital marketing efforts with cutting-edge programmatic advertising solutions. Let us help you transform your marketing strategy and lead your business to new heights.

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