Demystifying programmatic display

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Demystifying programmatic display

Today, I’m going to be demystifying programmatic display, or trying to make programmatic display a bit more understandable. I’m sure everyone here is familiar with display ads, and some of you probably know a bit about how programmatic buying works. Today, I want you talk through the process of exactly how an ad is bought and served to an end user to demystify exactly what’s going on when we run a display campaign.

What is programmatic display?

Let’s start at the beginning: what is programmatic display? Programmatic display is an automated process for buying and selling ads by targeting specific audiences and demographics. Sounds simple, right? But in terms of actually running a programmatic campaign, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle and a lot of buzzwords that get thrown around. Things like ‘RTB’, ‘DSPs’, ‘SSPs’, ‘DMPs’, and it all gets a bit confusing.

How display deals used to be completed

Hopefully, after this talk you’ll feel less like this guy and more like this guy. But before then, let’s go back to the olden days and remind ourselves how the first display deals were done and some are still technically done today.

If an advertiser wanted to place ads on a specific website, they would need to speak to the website directly and buy chunks of impressions. These ads would be shown to everyone that visited the page or the website, regardless of who they were or what they were interested in.

That might have worked okay for specific websites, niche websites, where you could be pretty sure that the people visiting that site were interested in the thing that that site was about. But it doesn’t work too well for maybe news sites or sites where all of the pages might be about a different topic. You get a mixed audience, and essentially if you’re buying chunks of impressions, you’re serving ads to the wrong people and you’ll be wasting advertising spend and getting a poor ROI.

Then came RTB, or real time bidding. The difference with real time bidding is that the decision to pay for an impression happens when a user loads the page, not a chunk of impressions bought in advance. The auction allows us to bid higher or lower based on what we know about that user.

How we target users

Audience targeting

How can we target those users? The first way is audience targeting, using DSP’s or data management platforms, like rocketfuel, bluekai, bizo. We can target people based on things like age, gender, income, marital status, job title, geo location, etc.

You can even get really specific. Some of the audience that we’ve seen: ‘users who like mayonnaise’, ‘users that want to buy lighting for their house’. Both of those audiences might be really useful to specific companies. The great thing about DSPs is that the audiences are already broken down into distinct groups, making it easy to target them.

Contextual targeting

The second is contextual targeting. With contextual targeting, you can show ads based on the content of the page. For instance, serving an ad for a new car to people reading a car review site. And in the example earlier about news websites, that’s going to be very important. You don’t want to show the same ad on every page.

You can also target users by some recent activity. So, recent searches that they carried out, what keywords that they typed in, what websites they viewed previously to try and look for intent or behavioural patterns.

The process

So how does that actually work? I’m going to go through the process from sort of start to finish. It’s quite a basic process, and there’s quite often more elements to this, but exactly what happens when an ad is served to a user, essentially.

You start with the user loading a webpage in their browser that has an ad slot in. That ad slot tells the browser to connect to an ad server, and that ad server will decide whether it’s got a pre-agreed premium advertiser that it wants to give the impression to, or whether it should be sent to the open market.

If it’s sent to the open market, you connect to an SSP which is a supplier side platform, which allows publishers to offer ads to different markets and fill inventory space. That SSP will connect to the DMP – the data management platform – to see if it’s seen the user before, if it has any other information on them, and it will package all of that up and send it off to the ad exchange.

Now, that is the publisher’s side of the process, so the people selling the inventory. That opportunity is now sitting on the ad exchange.

So, if you now switch over to the marketer’s side, to our side, to what we have control over, so that opportunity is then sent to a DSP or multiple DSPs. Now a DSP is a demand side platform. It’s exactly the same as an SSP, but on our side of the ad exchange. That is where we would run campaigns from, essentially.

That opportunity comes in, and DSPs are asked to respond within 10 milliseconds on whether they want to bid and place a bid on that. If they take longer than that, then they’re excluded from the auction. So, we take that information that’s been sent from the ad exchange, and we use our DMP, our data management platform to see if that user exists in our targeting. If they do, great. We want to bid on them, so we send the information to the DSP, place a bid, and send it to the ad exchange. The ad exchange will receive bids from all of the DSPs, and it will pick a winner.

Let’s say in this example, that we bid the highest and we were the winning bid. Our ad server will then give information on where to serve that ad from to the ad exchange, and that’s the marketer’s side of the process finished. The ad exchange now has the winning bid, the ad creative, and it will send that back to the SSP, and that sends it back to the ad server, that sends it to the user’s browser and loads the ad.

When that ad is loaded, our ad server, the marketer’s ad server, will record that as an impression. That’s how we track the performance of campaigns and count our impressions.

So, that’s the process from start to finish. Hopefully that will demystify some of exactly what’s going on and how that information is passed from a user’s browser to our campaign and back again. You can hopefully see the power of that in the advance targeting options that you’ve got there, the reduced wastage, and the improved ROI that that will bring to campaigns.

That’s it from me.