Future of Media Buying: Demand-Side Platforms

For 100 years or more, the media planning discipline has been preoccupied with the question of "where." The role of the media planner was to seek out the most relevant opportunities to reach an advertiser's target audience through paid media. Thus, the skills, training and tool sets that drove media planning focused on finding and buying content to attract those audiences. But in a marketing landscape increasingly dominated by technology and data, knowing where to run relevant advertising is no longer an adequate solution.

Effective media planning also needs to address how to run relevant advertising, and what technological and data strategy is required to deliver a relevant, targeted ad to the right audience with minimal waste.

New solutions, such as dynamic creative delivery, audience data warehouses, demand side platforms, business intelligence platforms, or other powerful technical innovations that blossomed over the last five years have attempted to bring increased visibility and better data to the media planning and buying process. Yet, this list doesn't even entertain social media and the myriad innovations filling that category.



Then there's the issue of data.

In addition to the now classic currencies for each channel, new channels have brought their own data sets (i.e. mobile). The shift from content, context and behavior-based buys to those built on actual audience data has added real-time insights at the cost of greater complexity. The continuing proliferation of both conventional media and new media, along with data sets on behavior in those channels, has buried the media planners and buyers -- without making it easier to make a smarter decision.

Demand-side platforms are designed to offer greater efficiency in ad exchange media buys. Each system connects multiple ad exchanges and the online display advertising inventory they offer through a single user interface. In essence, they offer a transparent, cost-effective, automated approach to ad exchange buying, which had been previously lacking. With access to a demand-side platform, an agency can ensure it's getting quality inventory at an affordable price, often in real time. Demand-side platforms offer a viable option for dealing with the frustrating fragmentation that's now inherent to the online media space.

The Pledge (and Pitfalls) of Automation

Many major agencies have already planted their stakes in the ground around the demand-side platform trend; others will surely follow. Whereas 10 years ago, a media buyer might be beguiled by a pitch for the benefits of using an ad network ("It will streamline the buying process!" "It will expand your buying budget with low, low rates!"), today demand-side platforms offer the promise of a brave new buying world.

Marketers have considerable power when they buy their inventory through a demand-side platform. The placements we purchase, the publishers we select, the price we pay, the data we superimpose, the value we place on each ad impression -- all is within our control.

But there's something about them that's giving others pause. Demand-side platforms are primarily about automation -- automating virtually the entire media-buying process. Where does that leave the agency media buyers who used to fulfill these responsibilities the old-fashioned way?

If you look closely, you'll see that what demand-side platforms are doing is reshaping the role that digital media buyers have played for close to 15 years.

To master this technology requires the use of a different kind of skill set, and to use it delivers a very different work experience. There's no going back to the handcrafted media plans of yesteryear; they would result in campaigns that can't compete with those meticulously structured (and measured) using a demand-side platform.

For those who take stock, however, evolution brings improvement, and demand-side platforms (and the ad exchanges before them) deliver plenty of upgrades. (See Mike Baker's timeless column for a complete list of key benefits.) It's up to buyers to recognize their value now, and to make the switch to what stands to become the future of media buying.

1 comment about "Future of Media Buying: Demand-Side Platforms".
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  1. Mitch Oscar from HocusFocus, September 24, 2010 at 5 p.m.

    Craig, please connect with Mitch Oscar at

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