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Getting to grips with DSPs


By Colin Grieves | General Manager, Experian Digital Media Services

August 27, 2015 | 5 min read

As customers become ever more technology centric, so marketing technology evolves to take this into account and adapt to serve new channels. Most marketers will have heard about programmatic advertising (if you haven’t, read this post I wrote a while ago), but it is a highly complex subject that can be difficult to grasp. One term you will repeatedly come across in any background reading on the matter is ‘DSP’ – or Demand-Side Platform.

Essentially, a DSP is a piece of the technology puzzle that fits into the larger real-time bidding ecosystem. It enables buyers of digital advertising to manage multiple ad exchanges and data exchange accounts through a single interface.

That’s the basic definition – what follows is a slightly more detailed explanation of how they function. I’ll try to keep it as straightforward and simple as possible, but it should allow you to more fully understand the technology and what it offers.

How do DSPs actually work?

DSPs allow advertisers to purchase impressions across a range of publisher sites. These impressions can be highly-targeted based on information such as the browser’s location and previous online behaviour. In fact, the potential accuracy of messaging is wholly reliant on the quality and accuracy of the data used.

Publishers make their ad impressions available through marketplaces called ad exchanges (and SSPs – Supply Side Platforms), and DSPs automatically decide which of those impressions it makes the most sense for an advertiser to buy based on algorithms which increasingly rely on demographic and behavioural audience data – the better quality the data the more accurate the DSP can be.

When a visitor lands on a site the DSP does some number crunching and communicates with a Supply Side Platform and/or an ad exchange to establish the value of an incoming impression then places a bid accordingly.

It matches the most relevant ad up with that visitor depending on their potential to purchase particular items based on what it knows about them and how much the advertiser is willing to invest to reach them. What it results in is a relevant ad being placed in front of a person who is more likely to be interested in the products offered. What this does mean is that there’s little-to-no need to negotiate prices with buyers, because impressions are simply auctioned off to the highest bidder. That process takes place in real time – the time it takes a webpage to load.

Most brands operate whitelists of websites they want to appear on. This allows advertisers to have some umbrella rules in place to cater for potential compliance rules or brand guidelines.

Blurring the lines between ad network and DSPs

DSPs and SSPs are now inheriting the space previously occupied by ad networks. And while it could be tempting to say they’re forcing ad networks out in fact the lines are simply blurring. While there are quite a few ad networks that haven’t adapted, and are consequently losing market share, there are a fair number that are offering DSP services – or services similar to those provided by a DSP. Likewise, many companies that started out as DSPs are beginning to look a lot like ad networks as they buy up inventory, repackage it, and resell it to advertisers.

What is under serious threat is the practice of humans buying ads (also known as direct or pre-guaranteed media buying) ad buying. Publishers are making more of their inventory available through exchanges and increasingly most advertisers would rather purchase ads using DSPs because it’s more cost efficient to do so. Essentially they’re finding they get more bang for their buck. Despite this, some form human input will always be required to help optimise campaigns and formulate strategy. It’s simply the transactional level that won’t require human input.

Making the most of DSPs

Increasingly, marketers are becoming aware of the power that data and technology offers them, bringing new opportunities to reach customers on a highly personalised level. DSPs, programmatic and real time bidding all lie at the intersection of data and technology. The technology and the intent are there, but without the right data marketers cannot run an effective campaign.

If you run campaigns based on bad or incomplete data it doesn’t matter how sophisticated the distribution method – or how effective the DSP is. The same issue needs to be considered by website owners and publishers themselves – ads on their sites are never going to be as effective as they can be if the data the advertisers are using isn’t up to scratch. As the use of DSPs within advertising continues to grow, the brands that are able to make the most of this trend will be those with the best grasp on their data.


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