Programmatic Advertising - The Ultimate Guide

The field of advertising and visual communications is constantly evolving, driven by innovative technologies that shape how brands engage with their target audiences. Digital Signage, a dynamic method of displaying digital content on screens, has emerged as a powerful tool for effectively sharing messages. In this context, programmatic advertising has revolutionized the industry by enabling companies to specifically target audiences and personalize messages in unprecedented ways.

What is Programmatic Advertising?

Programmatic advertising is a digital marketing strategy that utilizes algorithms and technology to automate the real-time purchasing of advertising space. Rather than relying on human negotiations, programmatic advertising allows brands to purchase advertising space in an automated, data-driven manner. This data-driven approach is particularly relevant in the context of Digital Signage, where precise personalization and targeting are crucial for engaging audiences.

How Does Programmatic Advertising Work?

Here is a summary of how programmatic advertising functions:

A potential customer visits a website.

  1. The website owner captures this impression and offers it for auction, including relevant data about the website visitor through a Supply-Side Platform (SSP).

  2. Advertisers bid for this impression using a Demand-Side Platform (DSP).

  3. The impression is then delivered to the highest bidder, whose ad will be shown to the visitor.

While these steps may seem complex, the entire process occurs within seconds, thanks to the Real-Time Bidding functionality associated with programmatic advertising. The competing bids undergo automated calculations and analytics to accurately determine the most cost-effective bid.

For example, if the visitor´s data indicates a high likelihood of engaging with a specific ad, the ad network will serve a higher bid for that impression.

The Programmatic Ecosystem

The programmatic ecosystem

Several components are crucial for the effective operation of the programmatic system. Below are the primary components of programmatic:

Demand-Side Platform (DSP)

A DSP is a software platform that allows advertisers to purchase advertising inventory from various channels and publishers in real-time. It offers features for creating, managing, and optimizing programmatic advertising campaigns.

One of the key advantages of DSPs is that they handle all transactions and audience targeting on behalf of advertisers. The process is straightforward:


  1. When a visitor arrives at a website, a signal is sent to an ad exchange.

  2. The ad exchange contacts the DSP to determine if the advertiser has any ads that match the user´s profile for serving.

  3. If there is a match, the DSP sends the ad information back to the ad exchange and participates in a real-time bidding auction for that particular ad slot.

  4. The highest bidder has their ad served to the site visitor.


Like how an SSP manages all operations on the publisher´s end, a DSP performs the same function on the advertiser´s end. However, there is another crucial element related to DSPs - a data management platform (DMP). Let us explore how these two components are connected.

Supply-Side Platform (SSP)

An SSP is a platform utilized by publishers to control their advertising inventory available for real-time auctions. It enables publishers to maximize revenue by connecting their inventory to multiple DSPs, thereby reaching a broader audience.

The noteworthy aspect of these platforms is that they empower publishers to increase their ad yield by connecting with multiple ad exchanges and setting minimum prices. The more bidders they attract for their inventory, the higher the chances of receiving better CPM rates. This allows publishers to ensure that they sell their inventory at the most favourable rates possible.

Data Management Platform (DMP)

A Data Management Platform (DMP) is a tool utilized by advertisers to collect, organize, and analyse user data in order to create comprehensive audience profiles. These profiles enable advertisers to effectively segment audiences, resulting in more targeted and relevant campaigns for specific user groups. The absence of data management platforms would leave advertisers without the necessary information to determine where and when to purchase ad space. This would lead to inefficient allocation of advertising budgets and potential revenue losses. However, with the advanced programmatic targeting options offered by DMPs, advertisers can confidently optimize their ad spending.

Ad Exchange

An ad exchange acts as a virtual hub where digital publishers and advertisers directly trade ad spaces without intermediaries. Publishers offer various types of ad inventory such as native, display, mobile games, video, and in-app spaces. The exchange operates through real-time bidding (RTB), enabling multiple participants to bid on available ad slots. The highest bidder gains the opportunity to display their ads.

Ad exchanges work on the basic principle of supply and demand: publishers seek the best price for their ad space, and advertisers aim for prominent visibility. This dynamic marketplace fits within programmatic advertising and operates using real-time bidding technology, connecting advertisers (on DSPs) with publishers (on SSPs).

Agency Trading Desk (ATD)

A Trading Desk refers to a specialized team with extensive knowledge of media and Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs). Through the Agency Trading Desk (ATD), these specialists participate in auctions and subsequently resell the acquired advertising space to clients, aiming to secure the most suitable placements. Ad Exchange

Other Elements

Real-Time Bidding (RTB) Engine: The RTB Engine is a vital component of programmatic advertising, responsible for conducting real-time auctions to determine which ad will be displayed to a specific user. This decision is based on various factors such as demographic profile, user behaviour, and bid amount.

Ad Creative Management Platform: This platform aids in the creation, customization, and management of advertising creatives. It empowers advertisers to develop relevant and visually appealing ads for different audience segments.

Machine Learning and AI Algorithms: Machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms are employed to analyse real-time data and automatically optimize advertising campaigns. They assist advertisers in making precise decisions by analysing user behaviour and past campaign performance.

Analytics and Reporting Tools: Analysis and reporting tools are indispensable for evaluating campaign performance. They provide comprehensive data on impressions, clicks, conversions, and other significant metrics, enabling advertisers to make necessary adjustments to their strategies.

How are the components of the Programmatic Advertising System interconnected?

The above information demonstrates that SSPs, DSPs, DMPs, and Ad Exchanges are interconnected and together form the programmatic advertising ecosystem. These components are crucial in facilitating the buying and selling of ad inventory, from both the perspective of publishers and advertisers, while also automating the entire process. This automation allows for streamlined operations, saving time and resources for all parties involved.

Below is a concise step-by-step explanation of how the programmatic advertising ecosystem operates and how its various components interact:

  1. When an advertiser wants to initiate a digital campaign, they utilize a demand-side platform (DSP) to simplify the process of purchasing ad inventory and optimizing their campaign.

  2. The DSP then searches for programmatic ad inventory available for sale from multiple publishers, using a supply-side platform (SSP).

  3. When a visitor arrives on a website, the DSP refers to a Data Management Platform (DMP) to evaluate if the visitor is a suitable candidate for the ad being sold, based on various targeting criteria.

  4. If the user is deemed a good match, the DSP sends an ad request to an SSP and participates in an auction for that impression.

  5. The DSP analyses the ad´s data and target parameters, and subsequently places a suitable bid.

  6. The SSP compares bids from all participating DSPs and sells the impression to the highest bidder, provided they exceed the publisher´s price floor.

  7. The entire process takes place through an Ad Exchange, which acts as the auction house for all participants.

The above explanation provides a clearer understanding of the behind-the-scenes operations of every programmatic advertising request and the interaction among the different elements in the ecosystem. Now that we have covered the challenging aspects, let´s explore the various forms of programmatic advertising and their functioning.

Types of Programmatic Targeting offered by DMPs

Thanks to Data Management Platforms (DMPs), advertisers can leverage a wide range of advanced audience targeting options to enhance the effectiveness of their advertisements. Here are some of the targeting options available:

  1. Contextual Targeting: This method displays ads based on the content of a specific website. For example, a sport news site like Eurosports is likely to display ads related to sports brands and sports competitions. Conversely, a local accountability consulting firm may achieve better results by advertising on a website like Accountability. However, this targeting method has limitations compared to other alternatives.

  2. Behavioural Targeting: Behavioural targeting is a popular technique in programmatic targeting. It utilizes user browsing history and cookie data to serve relevant ads based on their interests and previous searches. Advertisers using this method can effectively reach their target audiences, regardless of the sites they are currently visiting, as the ads are served based on their past actions.

  3. Keyword Targeting: This form of contextual targeting displays ads based on keywords present in the content of a specific website. For example, if you are selling cars, you would target websites that feature keywords related to cars, but not those with keywords related to car toys.

  4. Geo-Targeting: Geo-targeting is a highly sought-after option that allows advertisers to selectively serve ads to users from specific regions and countries.This also enables brands to deliver language-specific ads, which can significantly improve conversion rates in international markets.

  5. Retargeting

    : Retargeting is a valuable targeting option that enables advertisers to display their brands to individuals who have previously interacted with their products or website. This programmatic targeting option utilizes user cookies to identify and re-engage users who already have a relationship with the brand, increasing the likelihood of conversion. These advanced targeting options offered by DMPs are essential for the effectiveness of programmatic advertising. This highlights the integral role that DMPs play in the programmatic advertising ecosystem.

Types of Programmatic Advertising

Within the programmatic advertising ecosystem, there are various types of programmatic advertising. Here are three of the most common ones:

  1. Real-Time Bidding (RTB)
    Real-time bidding is widely used in the industry and involves purchasing and selling ads through real-time auctions. RTB stands out due to its efficient targeting and selective ad selling, allowing publishers to serve ads to the most relevant users based on their search history and behaviour. This system is commonly used by DSPs to assist advertisers in reaching their target customers. It´s important to note that while real-time bidding is a type of programmatic advertising, programmatic advertising is not solely limited to real-time bidding.

  2. Header Bidding
    Header bidding, also known as pre-bidding, is an advanced programmatic technique that enables publishers to auction their ad inventory on multiple ad exchanges simultaneously before requesting calls to ad servers. By offering their ad inventory to multiple SSPs and having multiple DSPs bid on the same inventory, publishers create increased competition for their ad slots, leading to higher revenue. Header bidding involves two bidding rounds, with DSPs conducting internal auctions among their advertisers, and the highest bids from each partner competing in a Header Auction to win the ad slot. Video header bidding is particularly profitable, as video ad formats tend to have high CPM rates.

  3. Programmatic Direct
    Programmatic direct operates differently from real-time bidding, as publishers directly sell their inventory to advertisers instead of auctioning it off. Through mutual agreement, all metrics such as CPM, impressions, and ad placements are predetermined. There are two primary reasons why publishers choose programmatic direct: guaranteed revenue from advertisers who purchase ad inventory directly, and the opportunity for advertisers to secure exclusive ad slots on specific websites, potentially including full-page takeover ads. While programmatic direct represents a smaller portion of the programmatic advertising market, it can be beneficial for both publishers and advertisers.

  4. Private Marketplace (PMP)
    Private marketplace programmatic advertising follows the same principle as real-time bidding, but with a significant difference. Bidding occurs within an invitation-only digital marketplace, excluding ad exchanges and providing direct access to a specific publisher´s inventory on customized terms. Although setting up a private marketplace requires more resources and direct communication, it offers advantages for both advertisers and publishers. Advertisers gain access to highly targeted ad inventory and face fewer competitors in auctions, while publishers can command premium prices due to specific demand.

Advantages of Programmatic Advertising

Programmatic advertising offers significant benefits to both publishers and advertisers. The following is a concise overview of the key advantages of programmatic advertising:

Enhanced Cost Efficiency

By opting for programmatic advertising, publishers can significantly reduce the workforce required to launch and manage their creatives, leading to cost reductions. Programmatic technology also enables publishers to sell their ad inventory at the highest possible prices through digital auctions.

Superior Reach

Advertisers can achieve remarkable reach potential with programmatic advertising by serving their ads to multiple ad networks and exchanges simultaneously. This allows them to seamlessly place their creatives on hundreds, if not thousands, of websites.

Increased Transparency and Control

Publishers who use programmatic advertising enjoy greater control over their ad creatives, as they receive extensive data on ad activity and placements.

Real-Time Performance Tracking & Reporting

In today´s predominantly digital world, the ability to adapt is crucial for success. Therefore, real-time performance tracking and reporting, which programmatic advertising provides, are essential. The abundance of data enables advertisers to optimize their creatives before the end of a campaign and streamline the otherwise laborious reporting process.

Extensive Targeting Options

Programmatic advertising is characterized by its comprehensive targeting capabilities. Advertisers no longer need to allocate resources to broad-reaching campaigns, as they can now focus on their target consumers using various programmatic targeting methods. From contextual and behavioural targeting to consumer retargeting, marketers can utilize programmatic advertising to reach the 98% of consumers who do not convert on their first visit to a website.

Considering all of these benefits, it becomes evident why programmatic advertising should be an indispensable part of your marketing strategy. One of the best aspects is its applicability to multiple marketing channels. Whether you engage in video content marketing or PPC, you can incorporate programmatic technology into your advertising efforts.

The Challenges of Programmatic Advertising

Programmatic advertising offers many advantages, but it also presents significant obstacles. Marketers often encounter difficulties with data integration, campaign tracking, and reporting. In this discussion, we will dig into these challenges in more detail and explore potential solutions.

Lack of transparency regarding revenue

One of the most significant challenges faced by programmatic audio-visual advertising is the concern among brands due to a lack of transparency regarding campaign performance. Ensuring that ads are displayed to real users, that they are visible or audible, and that they are presented in environments conducive to a positive perception of the message poses a considerable challenge.

Inconsistent taxonomy of marketing campaigns

One of the primary hurdles in programmatic advertising is the inconsistent taxonomy of programmatic campaigns. These campaigns can have varying naming conventions and UTM structures (Urchin Tracking Module), making it challenging to obtain a comprehensive view of marketing performance. This inconsistency frequently results in discrepancies in performance metrics and hampers the ability to accurately measure the effectiveness of marketing efforts. Without a clear and consistent taxonomy, optimizing campaigns, allocating budgets effectively, and making data-driven decisions become arduous tasks. One solution to this challenge is to employ a marketing analytics platform that standardizes and consolidates campaign data from multiple programmatic platforms.

Difficulties pulling data from numerous ad accounts

Another significant challenge in programmatic advertising is the difficulty of extracting data from multiple ad accounts. Marketers frequently run programmatic campaigns across various ad accounts and platforms, each with its unique data format and API. This complicates the process of data collection and consolidation, particularly for marketers lacking technical expertise to construct and maintain their data pipelines.

Potential resource savings after automating marketing reporting

As a result, marketers spend lots of time manually extracting data from numerous ad accounts, which is a time-consuming and mistake-ridden task. Furthermore, this leads to delays in data processing and reporting, obstructing the identification of important trends and campaign optimization.

Marketing analytics platforms are crucial for teams that value their time and wish to avoid wasting it on manually extracting data from hundreds of programmatic ad accounts.

Lack of cross-channel performance visibility

The inability to analyse both organic and paid performance in a unified view is a significant drawback of programmatic platforms. Typically, teams are limited to the platform´s native analytics tools, which do not consider data from other channels. Consequently, marketers must manually aggregate data from organic and paid channels to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the customer journey and identify the most efficient channels.

Manual data aggregation not only consumes valuable time but also leads to incomplete or inaccurate data, hindering decision-making processes.

Marketing analytics platforms are invaluable for teams that need to track the performance of their efforts across various channels.

The Future of Programmatic Advertising: What Lies Ahead?

The field of advertising has made significant progress over the years, and it is evident that programmatic technology will continue to play a crucial role in its future. However, it is important to note that this technology is still relatively young and evolving rapidly, with new players emerging every day. While programmatic advertising is undoubtedly the technology of tomorrow, its exact trajectory is not yet determined.

So, what can we anticipate from the future of programmatic advertising? What trends are we likely to witness? Let´s explore further!

Increased Prominence of Header Bidding

Evolution of Contracts between players accordingly to iab
Evolution of Contracts between players accordingly to iab

One of our predictions is that header bidding will gain much more popularity in the near future. This is primarily because header bidding offers greater profitability for publishers, leading more businesses to adopt it as they recognize its potential. Although it is unlikely that header bidding will completely replace other forms of programmatic advertising, it is expected to dominate the industry. Therefore, if you want to stay ahead of your competitors, it is advisable to start exploring header bidding without delay!

Essential Focus on Ad Fraud Prevention

In today´s online world, where digital ad fraud is rampant, advertisers are actively seeking ways to protect themselves. Currently, 36% of display ad clicks are fraudulent, digital ad fraud results in brands losing $1 for every $3 spent on digital ads, and 36% of display ad clicks are fraudulent. This amounts to a significant portion of most brands´ ad revenue.

Given the alarming impact of ad fraud, it is safe to assume that the programmatic advertising industry will prioritize the development of reliable solutions to prevent fraudulent activities. Blockchain technology appears particularly promising in this regard, as industry professionals are exploring its potential to combat invalid traffic. While ad fraud prevention is not yet a standard practice in the industry, there are already ways for publishers and advertisers to safeguard themselves. Numerous companies specialize in helping brands combat ad fraud, making partnering with them the most effective approach at present.

Integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence has become increasingly prevalent in marketing, and it is gradually making its way into the advertising industry as well. AI and machine learning have proven to be powerful tools for predicting and automating various advertising processes, such as analysing ad metrics and targeting specific audiences. Although this technology is still in its early stages, it is expected to gain more prominence in the near future.

Enhanced Personalization

Programmatic advertising technology has revolutionized digital advertising by offering extensive targeting options and real-time campaign tracking and optimization. However, there is still room for improvement, especially in the realm of personalization. By combining the capabilities of AI with programmatic technology, new and improved targeting options are already emerging. These advancements will enable advertisers to precisely target their desired audience and create highly tailored ad creatives that align with their customers´ preferences. We can confidently anticipate that targeting technology will continue to improve to meet the demands of the fiercely competitive online market.

Shift Towards In-House Programmatic Advertising

Programmatic in-house distribution accordingly to iab
Programmatic in-house distribution accordingly to iab

Our final prediction is that many businesses will increasingly bring their programmatic advertising efforts in-house. This shift will occur as brands realize the financial losses incurred by relying on various platforms and third-party intermediaries.

This trend will be particularly noticeable among large publishers, as their losses from intermediaries can amount to millions of dollars!

In conclusion, the future of programmatic advertising holds exciting prospects. With the anticipated rise of header bidding, the imperative need for ad fraud prevention solutions, the integration of AI, the pursuit of enhanced personalization, and the shift towards in-house operations, the industry is poised for further evolution and innovation.

By the year 2022, approximately 62% of brands will have shifted their programmatic advertising efforts in-house. In 2018, only 45% of businesses managed their programmatic advertising internally. However, experts predict that this figure will rise significantly to around 62% by 2022.

Although an increasing number of brands are adopting in-house programmatic advertising, it is important to note that this option may not be available to everyone. Smaller publishers, for instance, might encounter challenges in meeting the minimum requirements to independently participate in ad exchanges. Consequently, while in-house programmatic advertising may be a more profitable choice, not all businesses will be able to make the transition.


The utilization of programmatic techniques is reshaping the digital advertising realm, particularly within the realm of Digital Signage. By incorporating programmatic strategies, brands have the ability to generate dynamic and highly personalized viewing experiences. This approach not only enhances the effectiveness of messages, but also establishes a more efficient communication channel between companies and their intended audience. With ongoing technological advancements, the integration of digital signage and programmatic methods holds the potential to revolutionize the manner in which brands engage with the world. By allowing advertisers to precisely target their audience and optimize their strategies on-the-fly, programmatic advertising not only enhances the overall user experience but also maximizes return on investment. As technology continues to evolve, embracing programmatic advertising strategies will be essential for businesses aiming to stay competitive and relevant in the ever-evolving landscape of digital advertising.