Media Buying 101: What It Is And How It Works [+15 Platforms to Use]

Have you ever wondered who is behind those banner ads on the sites you visit most? Or the Super Bowl ads that we talk about for weeks after they aired? The answer is media buyers.

When a brand receives a marketing budget, some of it goes towards paid advertising. This is where buying media comes in.

There’s not much going on in the marketing industry, but this process is responsible for the targeted ads we see today.

Let’s dive into this process that so many of us are on the receiving end of.

What is media purchase?

When buying media, advertising space and time are bought on digital and offline platforms such as websites, YouTube, radio and television. A media buyer is also responsible for negotiating ad inventory with publishers, managing budgets, and optimizing ads to improve campaign performance.

Whether they’re watching a TV show or scrolling through a website, media buyers are putting brands ahead of their target market.

It’s not like social media where users come and find you. It’s an outbound strategy that is only effective if you have a well thought out strategy in place. According to Rex Gelb, director of Advertising and Analytics at HubSpot, one of the biggest mistakes brands make is not thinking through their marketing goals.

“Some ad placements may be good for a number of goals but bad for another. Let’s say you’re an airline and your focus is on impressions and awareness. Instead of an immediate sale, you can buy a placement that is known to be cheap on Impressions.” , he said.

Yellow continued, “Let’s say you’re a CEO promoting a ‘Letter to Our Customers’. In this case, you’re interested in cheap clicks. Buying cheap impressions, which made sense in the previous example, won’t help you more to achieve your goal. “

This is why media planning is such an important step as it helps you get the most out of your ads.

Nowadays, buying media is done in two ways:

  • Direct purchase Media buyers forge relationships with publishers to negotiate ad inventory, e.g. B. by working with a newspaper to place an ad in the upcoming issue.
  • Programmatic purchase – The purchase process is carried out using automated technology.

Media buying vs. media planning

Media buying and media planning fall into the same category but are two different processes. While media buying focuses on getting the most impressions from the right audience at the lowest cost, media planning focuses on the strategy behind the campaign.

During the planning phase, you determine which media will be most effective in reaching a specific audience. As soon as the media planning is completed, the purchase of media follows. It’s also important to note that media planning isn’t just for advertising, it is for all of the media a brand publishes there.

However, in a small to medium-sized business, the work can be done by the same person or team.

This is how buying digital media works

When purchasing digital media or purchasing programmatically, the purchase of impressions is automated. The negotiations are still technically taking place, but they are handled much faster via open and private marketplaces.

The traditional approach, on the other hand, involves negotiating and building relationships with publishers.

This automated purchasing structure consists of three components:

  • Demand-Side Platforms (DSP) This is where advertisers and advertising agencies set up their campaigns, bid on the ad inventory, and optimize their ads based on performance.
  • Supply Side Platforms (SSP) where publishers sell their ad inventory. It is the publisher version of the DSP.
  • The ad exchange Marketplace where advertisers and publishers buy or sell ad inventory using real-time bidding (RTB).

RTB isn’t the only way to purchase impressions. You can also use private marketplaces where publishers restrict participation in the auction. Another option is called programmatic direct, which sells ad inventory at a fixed cost per thousand impressions (CPM) with no bid.

So what about ad networks? Well, these platforms aggregate the ad inventory of different publishers and tailor it to the needs of the advertisers who act as intermediaries. Think of Google Adsense and the Facebook Audience Network.

Buying digital media can be cheaper and allow teams to focus on ad performance rather than bargaining back and forth. However, given the latest cookie restrictions and Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) rollout on iOS 14, it is unclear how this will affect media purchase space.

“With the upcoming version, Apple will ask all users for permission to track when they open an app, and large advertising networks like Facebook will not be exempt,” said Gelb. “Needless to say, many iOS users will be signing out, which will have a negative impact on targeting and conversion tracking.”

“Nobody knows exactly what the effects will be yet,” he added, “but we in the industry keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.”

Tips on buying media

1. Strategize.

Before starting your advertising campaign, there are a few things you need to find out.

The first question is what is the goal of your campaign? Do you want more website traffic, brand awareness, and social engagement? Aligning your team with one goal will help you focus your efforts and better track the success of your campaign.

This leads us to important progress indicators (KPIs). You will need them to monitor your campaign and see if any adjustments need to be made. After all, your campaign needs a budget. If it’s a long-term campaign, you can set a daily budget.

These steps are usually performed during the media planning phase. However, in some cases, media planners are also responsible for buying ads.

2. Identify your destination and where to find it.

Your next step is to determine who the campaign is targeting and which networks are best suited to reach them.

For example, let’s say a health-conscious vegan dessert company wants to run an advertising campaign in the next quarter targeting health-conscious vegan consumers. The marketing team may want to advertise vegan-friendly content on YouTube videos, fitness and nutrition websites, or even cooking and recipe pages.

When buying media, you can target audience by device, location, behavior, interests, web browser, and more.

3. Set up your campaign.

This step depends on which media buying platform you are using.

However, if you typically use a DSP, enter your campaign details e.g. B. Campaign Type, Creative Assets, Budget, Audiences, and Bid Strategies. Once this process is complete, all that’s left to do is start and wait for the results to come in.

If you take a direct approach, it’s likely a collaborative process between your team and your publisher’s account manager.

4. Track the results and optimize them.

The most exciting (and possibly scariest) part of starting an advertising campaign is tracking its performance.

Once it starts, it will start collecting data on how your ads are performing. At this stage it is important not to make decisions too quickly. You should collect enough data to get a complete picture before switching gears.

For example, let’s say you are using the same vegan dessert company that launched an advertising campaign through Google’s advertising network. You are using two static image ads and one video ad. After a week, they find that the video ad clearly outperforms banner ads. The media buyer can choose to reallocate funds for this type of ad and placement as it will get better results.

A media buyer’s job is to maximize ad potential while staying within budget. If the ad doesn’t live up to expectations, adjustments can and should be made during the duration of the campaign.

Best platforms for buying digital media

  1. Google Display & Video 360
  2. The trade desk
  3. AdColony
  4. Amazon DSP
  5. AdCritter
  6. Adobe Advertising Cloud
  7. Verizon Media
  8. Criteo
  9. StackAdapt
  10. AcuityAds
  12. Adelphic
  13. Amobee
  14. Centro base
  15. Xandr Invest

1. Google Display & Video 360

You can find Display & Video 360 in the Google Marketing Platform. Originally DoubleClick Bid Management, DV360 can be seamlessly integrated with Google Analytics and other Google products. If your team is already using these tools, this might be the right tool for buying media.

There are five modules in DV360 to help you build your campaign, manage your audience and creative resources, analyze your data, and access ad inventory from top publishers. It also offers automated bidding and custom targeting using first and third party data, making it easier to reach the right audience.

Finally, the platform enables advertisers to reach users not only on websites and YouTube, but also on television.

2. The trade desk

If you want access to premium publishers, the Trade Desk is a place to look.

The platform has ad inventory from some of the largest publishers including Spotify, ABC, Wall Street Journal, and ESPN.

One of the main features of the platform is the AI-driven “Koa”, which uses data from over 600 billion daily queries to determine the smartest, most cost-effective way to run your digital campaign. The Trade Desk also has cross-device targeting functions to optimize the reach of your campaign.

3. AdColony

AdColony enables brands to reach mobile app users on both iOS and Android.

The platform offers multiple video formats and placements including full screen, interactive, banner and interstitial. This allows marketers to test different formats to see which will produce the best results.

AdColony also has 90,000+ direct app integrations and a reported offering of 450 million app users.

4. Amazon DSP

Every time you think Amazon has hit a cap, it will show a different vertical.

According to an article by Ad Exchanger, Amazon DSP is one of the most widely used DSPs by brands and advertising agencies. With this DSP, you can reach users on Amazon-owned websites such as Audible and IMDb, as well as other Amazon partners.

Also, brand safety is becoming a top priority to ensure ads don’t appear in risky or inappropriate environments.

5. AdCritter

AdCritter is a DSP for small and medium-sized businesses.

The platform has an ad generator and library of pre-made templates for businesses that may not have their own creative resources.

With AdCritter, media buyers can even hand-select the websites they appear on to ensure their ads reach their target audience. You can also reach consumers based on demographics and behavior.

6. Adobe Advertising Cloud

In 2017, Adobe introduced a powerful DSP that is linked to Adobe Audience Manager and Adobe Analytics.

Similar to Google, the Adobe platforms can be seamlessly integrated, which simplifies collaboration and cross-data analysis.

Adobe also has powerful performance tuning features to help maximize your return on advertising spend (ROAS).

7. Verizon Media

If you’re like me, every mention of Verizon automatically brings up “Can you hear me now?” make something.

It turns out that Verizon offers a lot more than just cell phone coverage. In 2019, they reported that their DSP had a 71% higher average conversion rate from campaigns compared to third-party segments.

Your platform uses omnichannel strategies to engage consumers, such as: B. outdoor digital advertising (i.e. billboards and in-car advertising), audio streaming platforms, and connected TVs.

8. Criteo

This platform has access to a large network of premium retailers, making it a great DSP for brands looking to reach online shoppers. Think Best Buy, CVS Pharmacy, Macy’s, and Kohls.

They rely on first party data instead of third party cookies to optimize ads and determine the right time and place for customer loyalty.

Criteo’s flexible attribution models also make data analysis easier for teams.

9. StackAdapt

If your brand is in the alcohol, cannabis, and gambling industries, it can be difficult to navigate through ad regulations and compliance guidelines. StackAdapt helps brands improve their messaging and address these challenges.

Some of their main functions include dynamic retargeting, machine learning optimization, and cross-device capabilities.

10. AcuityAds

The best feature of AcuityAds is its intuitive user interface.

With this DSP, your team can create an ad storyboard for each campaign and visualize the customer journey.

There’s a drag-and-drop feature that streamlines the media planning process. AcuityAds also has a travel map that brands can use to quickly visualize a campaign’s performance.


Some DSPs offer pre-segmented audiences for advertising campaigns, which can be limiting depending on who your team is trying to reach. has custom targeting options to ensure accuracy.

The platform also promotes the transparency of costs and analyzes. Marketers can see a detailed breakdown of where their advertising dollars are going and how much of it is used for platform fees.

Another outstanding feature of is the localization functions, with which the audience can be reached at the highest level.

12. Adelphic

If customer support is important to your team, consider Adelphic. This omnichannel DSP has consistently achieved a customer satisfaction rate of over 95%.

In contrast to other DSPS, Adelphic offers a flexible pricing model with a subscription-based structure. This means media buyers pay a set monthly fee for unlimited media.

Additional features include advanced reporting tools and data integrations.

13. Amobee

With Amobee you can design digital campaigns on different platforms and across multiple browsers and devices.

This DSP identifies potential consumers at the person level using their proprietary Amobee ID identity diagram. This tool enables brands to forecast the performance of their campaign across multiple devices and channels.

The platform can also access APIs through social channels like Facebook and Instagram to automate social campaigns.

14. Centro base

With over 9,000 vendors and 11,000 contacts, Basis has one of the largest inventories on the market.

The artificial intelligence (AI) tool can also check over 30 campaign parameters and make optimization suggestions to achieve the best results. Basis also has scalable functions for small and large companies.

15. Xandr Invest

Zandr Invest specializes in reaching audiences through networked television advertising.

The platform is based on AT & T’s first party data and offers brands unique insights into the delivery of targeted campaigns. Marketers can segment users based on lifestyle, interest, intent, population, and viewership.

Xandr also offers an elegant user interface for planning, starting and tracking campaigns.

When buying media, no ad placement is accidental. It takes a few tries to get started and the optimization process lasts throughout the campaign. However, once you have a strategy and an intuitive performance tracking platform, you will see effective ads that match your marketing goals.

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