Ultimate Introduction to Programmatic Advertising and Using a DSP

You were researching the best marketing strategies for your company when you came across the terms “programmatic advertising” and “DSP.” You were originally leaning towards buying some Instagram ads, but now you’re wondering if programmatic advertising is a better option. 

The answer depends on your goals. Programmatic advertising with a DSP is a great solution for one advertising campaign across the internet, but it’s not the same as a social media strategy. Let’s explain these terms and then get into how and when a company should use a DSP.

What is Programmatic Advertising?

Programmatic advertising involves “the buying and selling of online advertising using automation.” Nowadays, computers use algorithms that efficiently streamline ad sales and placement. These programs can automatically buy ad campaigns instead of negotiating with individual platforms. Programmatic ad buying for streaming TV services is a common form of ad buying.

What is a DSP?

Adobe defines a DSP, or demand-side platform, as a tool that “aggregates access to supply side partners so that advertisers can easily message their consumers or clients across those different channels in a single place.

Let’s translate that. In essence, demand-side platforms help run one ad campaign across multiple different platforms. Despite receiving information from several channels, this campaign will collect data and store them in one place. 

Hartie Chang, a product marketing manager for Adobe Advertising Cloud, explains that a DSP works together with an SSP, or a supply-side platform, to make this happen. Programmatic advertising with a DSP benefits the advertiser, but the SSP benefits the publisher. 


What is an SSP, and How is It Different From a DSP?

Chang states that an SSP “aggregates advertising inventory sources,” or provides direct access to multiple ad spaces at once. Instead of working with a specific website like Facebook or Yahoo for individual ad placement, an SSP can place an ad on multiple websites simultaneously. 

Supply-side platforms will focus on one or a few specific areas. Some SSPs aggregate video spaces, such as SpotX, which can stream to Disney, Roku, Discovery, AMC, and Vudu. Others will aggregate display ads, or “text- and image-based advertisements that live on websites, apps, or other digital properties.

An SSP is not the same as a DSP. Media platforms offer their ad inventory to SSPs for sale. DSPs cannot directly access this ad inventory. Instead, DSP technology helps advertisers work with an SSP to search through this ad inventory and target the best places for their campaign. 

In the words of SpotX, an SSP is a pot that collects inventory. A DSP helps “advertisers sift through the pot.”

What’s the Difference Between a DSP and an Ad Network?

Advertising networks and DSPs are very similar, but DSPs are a little more modern. Like DSPs, ad networks represent “many websites in selling advertising,” and they similarly allow buyers to reach their target demographic through categorized bids. 

However, Digiday’s Jack Marshall explains that unlike ad networks, DSPs allow advertisers to “buy, serve and track ads using one central tool, and to optimize campaigns more easily as a result.” Ad networks also usually profit by marking up their ad spaces, while DSPs profit through charging transaction fees.

In 2014, Marshall explained that DSPs wouldn’t replace ad networks because their similarities allowed them to work together and merge their models. While traditional ad networking has been set aside, “almost all ad networks… offer[ed] some sort of DSP-like product or real-time bidding capability.” 

Nowadays, media experts might disagree. Rotem Shaul, CEO at video discovery platform Primis, defines the term ad network “as a company that connects advertisers to websites that want to host ads.” Here, there is a crucial difference between ad networks and DSPs, as DSPs do not work directly with publishers. To Shaul, ad networks represent “dark days” when ad tech companies served both publishers and advertisers. This caused a power imbalance where neither publishers nor advertisers had a partner dedicated only to their side’s specific needs. 

Differences Between DSPs and Ad Networks

Like Marshall mentioned (although for different reasons), Shaul is afraid that the lines between DSPs and ad networks are blurring. In previous years, programmatic ad buying operated with second-price auctions. Due to the heavy competition between several DSP companies, publishers had to use an SSP to work with them all. It wouldn’t be beneficial for publishers to go directly to demand-side platforms, because each DSP represented only a small percentage of their revenue. SSPs served publishers, and DSPs served advertisers.

However, with first-price auctions and consolidation, top demand-side platform companies make up a large part of the publishers’ revenue. According to Shaul, “This creates a strong incentive for publishers and DSPs to work together directly and cut out SSPs.” This would cause a similar power imbalance that resembles old ad networks. 

As of now, programmatic advertising with a DSP hasn’t gotten to that point. Only time will tell if DSPs start becoming synonymous with ad networks. 

Using a DSP

Using a DSP

Your experience using a DSP will vary depending on which company you use. However, most DSPs will provide the same basic features. We will use Epom’s White Label DSP, which offers users access to their personalized DSP, as an example.

Embed video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYTNbnpYgeQ

Epom’s sales executive shows you how to use their tools above. When creating an ad campaign, you can choose your default and maximum bid prices, the date you want your campaign to launch, which ad categories you want to select, and the type of creative you’d like to buy. Other parameters involve schedules, locations, and ad distribution. 

After selecting your parameters, you must upload your creative that you’d like to use in your ad campaign and determine any extra features you’d like to include. For example, if you’d like to track clicks and conversions, you’d need to measure that information with an attribution link. Epom also provides analytics, which shows data for traffic that you’ve bid upon. 

Epom Market states that a DPS should offer the following targeting options: browser, OS, OS version, device model, language, time of day, carrier code, geo-location, frequency depth, domain URL, and app name. If you can find a lookalike audience, that’s also an incredible advantage for programmatic ad buying. 

Examples of DSPs

With the recent transition from second-price to first-price auctions, some members of the media community believe the future of demand-side platforms is uncertain. However, as it stands now, there are hundreds of DSPs available for your access. We’ll only go over three demand-side platform companies here. 


Epom is an advertising support company with multiple different technologies, such as Epom Market, Epom ad server, and Epom DSP. The Epom Market platform provides their own DSP for self-serve advertising. On the other hand, Epom DSP, or the “White Label DSP” shown in the video above, allows users “to create their own demand-side platform and buy traffic without paying the middlemen.” 

According to FeaturedCustomers, a B2B software reference site, 128 customers rated Epom 4.8 out of 5 stars

Google Marketing Platform

Google has acquired and partnered with a few DSPs. In 2010, the company acquired InviteMedia and eventually “integrated Invite’s software into its own codebase.” It also purchased mobile advertising company AdMob and advertising exchange DoubleClick. Google continued to brand its advertising products under the DoubleClick name until it transformed into the Google Marketing Platform in 2018.

Under the Google Marketing Platform, users have access to tools like Analytics 360, Display & Video 360, Optimize 360, and Search Ads 360. Out of these tools, Display & Video 360 most closely resemble DSP features. 

On G2.com, 269 reviews of the Google Marketing Platform averaged 4 out of 5 stars. Google also partners with demand-side platform companies like Adform, Adobe, Amobee, DataXu, MediaMath, The Trade Desk, Verizon Media, and Xandr. 

Amazon DSP

Amazon DSP allows advertisers to purchase both display and video ads. They offer self-service and managed-service options, which allow advertisers to run their campaigns independently or with additional help. 

Amazon’s display ads can appear across the web as well as through Amazon sites and devices. Their video ads appear on “Amazon sites like IMDb, devices like Fire TV, and across the web.In recent years, Amazon has been especially keen to use its DSP to dominate the connected TV ad market. 

You do not have to be an Amazon seller to utilize their Amazon DSP tool. However, you will not be able to use other products like Sponsored Brands, Sponsored Products, and Sponsored Display. 

While there aren’t a lot of online reviews for Amazon DSP, it was marketers’ “DSP of choice” over Google and TradeDesk in a 2019 Programmatic Intelligence Report by Advertiser Perceptions. Advertisers also reportedly grew their spending on the platform by 44% from Q3 2019 to Q4 2019. 

Get Started with DSP

If you’re looking to launch web campaigns on multiple streaming services, programmatic advertising with a DSP is your best bet. Now you just have to decide which one. 

There are a few elements to consider before choosing your DSP. Epom Market states that advertisers should research user data, targeting tools, whitelists and blacklists, inventory, analytics, automated optimization, platform fees, technical support, and usability. 

If you’d like to hire an outside source for some extra help, SEODesignChicago can advise you on DSPs and advertising buys. And if you’re specifically looking for more information on digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising, check out our explanations here.

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