“Digital advertising” is an umbrella term that covers a variety of processes, capabilities and organizations that perform different roles within the ad tech ecosystem. These are not interchangeable, so it’s important to understand the distinctions between them. Sit tight as we dig into the features of the most common players in this space and explain what each can and cannot provide for media owners and advertisers.
A DSP, or Demand-Side Platform, is a technology that advertisers use to buy ad impressions in an automated fashion, increasing efficiency and cutting costs. DSPs allow advertisers to bid on inventory from a variety of media owners all at once, removing the need to negotiate with each of them face-to-face. They’re also equipped with tools that help advertisers optimize campaigns to deliver on their core goals. Key among these is the application of data, which makes it possible to target ads effectively and get them in front of the right consumers as cheaply and effectively as possible.
An ad exchange is a digital marketplace where advertisers and media owners buy and sell impressions, often through real-time auctions. Think of it as a big pot of available inventory. Media owners offer their inventory up for sale by adding it to the pot, often going through an SSP (more on this later) to help boost their earnings. Conversely, advertisers sift through the pot looking for impressions they want to buy, typically using a DSP or similar technology to optimize their purchase.
Essentially, ad exchanges are where the sale and purchase of ad impressions takes place, and media owners and advertisers go through SSPs and DSPs respectively to facilitate their end of the transaction in a way that delivers on their goals.
Ad networks are very similar to ad exchanges except that they typically aggregate impressions from many different media owners, mark them up and pocket the difference. Think of it like a consignment store model for ad impressions.
An SSP, or Supply-Side Platform, uses similar technology to that of a DSP except that it’s used by media owners to manage their ad inventory and sell impressions programmatically. SSPs allow media owners to connect their inventory to multiple ad exchanges, DSPs and networks at once, enabling a wide range of potential buyers to purchase ad space. By creating competition between buyers for the ad impressions, media owners can achieve the highest revenue possible for their inventory.
Beyond automating the sale of impressions, SSPs (like DPSs) include features that help media owners extract the most value from each transaction. One example is the price floor, which allows media owners to set minimum prices for their inventory, below which they will not sell the inventory at all.
Once a media owner sells an ad impression, an ad server is the technology that traffics the ad itself, getting the creative in front of the target consumer whose impression the advertiser purchased. It is the keystone of the digital advertising process, essentially delivering the “goods” and completing the transaction. Modern ad servers are characterized by features that help optimize the delivery of ads. These include:
- Cross-Screen Ad Serving across desktop, mobile and connected TV screens
- Holistic Inventory Management allowing media owners to administer all of their ad inventory in one place while leveraging different transaction models, including programmatic and direct selling
- Transparent Reporting & Insights that allow buyers and sellers to make intelligent decisions.
So, there you have it. We hope this gives you a better understanding of the different roles within the digital advertising space. Check out more of our ad serving resources: