We Need To Talk About…. Demand Side Platforms
Display Advertising

We Need To Talk About…. Demand Side Platforms

4th November 2013

In its former life, our illustrious blog always predominately focused on the specifics and search marketing. Since broadening our focus to the world of digital marketing, contributors and editors have been paving the way for greater insight across the spectrum of channels. A big area as yet relatively undiscussed is that of display advertising. This channel is a new world to us, with a host of acronyms and peculiarities all of its own.

Over 2 years ago, Kelvin reported live at a conference that barely anybody showed any interest in learning more about display media, and programmatic advertising. This despite the fact that the worlds of search and display are increasingly crossing over. A year later and Andrew also encouraged a traditionally search marketing audience to learn more about the leap from search to display when discussing SES 2012. However the proportion of search marketers who actively understand or are involved in the use of programmatic display advertising media remains small. It’s nearly 2014, let’s try to change this!

So back onto the particular topic of DSPs. That’s Demand-Side Platforms for the uninitiated. There are many ways to buy display advertising, in fact it is traditionally associated with agencies and strong publisher relationships. However the advent of programmatic buying, and Demand Side Platforms, has changed all that. For search marketers with an understanding of algorithm-based real-time bidding in particular – this technology allows for much greater flexibility across display media. So much so in fact that many agencies with both traditional display and search marketing skills are now faced with the question of  who is best placed to be buying that inventory.

Firstly, let’s get a definition of a DSP from that digital bible – Wikipedia.

demand-side platform (DSP) is a system that allows buyers of digital advertising inventory to manage multiple ad exchange and data exchange accounts through one interface. Real-time bidding for displaying online ads takes place within the ad exchanges, and by utilizing a DSP, marketers can manage their bids for the banners and the pricing for the data that they are layering on to target their audiences. Much like Paid Search, using DSPs allows users to optimize based on set Key Performance Indicators such as effective Cost per Click(eCPC), and effective Cost per Action (eCPA).

Crucial areas worthy of note to a search marketer is the use of the terms ‘real-time bidding’ and ‘cost-per-click’ – two phrases that have not traditionally been associated with display advertising. Demand Site Platforms are part of the much wider display advertising eco-system which also includes Ad Exchanges, Trading Desks and Ad Networks. Confused yet?

Secondly, here a list of DSPs that you might want to check out:

Thirdly, here’s an image from NextWeb that does a good job of demonstrating just how complicated the landscape is. We won’t touch on all the different areas of the ecosystem in this post but for now just focus on DSPs, predominately because they are a tool search marketers could and should be using.


Display Advertising Ecosystem
Display Advertising Ecosystem


The simple way to think of DSPs from a search perspective (apologies to the display veterans out there for this analogy)  is to compare them to the big paid search management platforms. They provide a centralised place to be able to manage multiple ad exchanges with control across your real time bidding opportunities. This includes working across retargeting, contextual targeting, incorporating broader data sets into your account (think additional demographics such as gender or age and the impact it can have on your campaign targeting) and capturing cookie data to further increase the granularity of targeting.

Demand Side Platforms provide a single, centralised location for to control a wider variety of ad networks with real-time bidding. This includes common ad networks that search marketers are already familiar with such as the Google Display Network and the Facebook Exchange. Targeting options that we have already worked work with through AdWords such as geo-targeting or day parting as also standard within most DSPs. So again we see the convergence between search and display, and the logical confusion that ensues over who is best placed to work with the medium.

Traditional display marketers know the publishers and ad exchanges well, while search marketers are highly adept at CPC optimisation and real-time bidding. How should budget be effectively split to ensure greatest ROI and who is best placed to make that call? Another point here is that display is  no longer only the privilege of larger brands or restricted to what we can buy across GDN or FBX. Technology like DSPs allow smaller brands to test some of their budget across this medium in a similar way to the first steps taken in paid search marketing.

I’ll return in Volume 2 with a longer look into the display ecosystem and how ad networks and trading desks fit into the picture as well as looking at what you should be considering to dip your toe into display either as an agency or in-house marketer.






Written By
Originally from the UK via France and Malaysia, Annabel Hodges is a digital marketer with long experience in the industry now residing in Sydney. She heads up the Digital Marketing at Next Commerce, working across an array of products, channels and brands.
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