Jul 26 2022
Anthony Loredo

Programmatic Advertising 101: What is a DSP?


You need to get started using programmatic buying tools, but you’ve never done it before, and you don’t know where to begin. Join the club. We get it. It’s the same reason we haven’t learned to cook for ourselves yet.

Here’s the good news: We’ve got experts at Basis Technologies who know the ins and outs of programmatic advertising. All you have to do is ask the right questions. Lucky for you, we’ve asked the basic questions and we’ve come equipped with answers (and, lucky for us, everyone assures us there is no such thing as a dumb question).

Understanding Programmatic Ad Buying

To start: Programmatic is a very broad term. Simply put, it’s technology that automates digital media buying. This can include automating anything from rate negotiation and campaign set up to optimizations and actualizations. One of the primary buying tools you have at your disposal is a DSP.

If there really are no dumb questions, then can I ask: What is a DSP?

A demand side platform (DSP) is an automated ad buying platform, where advertisers and agencies go to purchase digital ad inventory. Examples of ad inventory include banner ads on websites, mobile ads on apps and the mobile web, and in-stream video. DSPs are integrated into multiple ad exchanges.

I’ve heard of a SSP. Is that the same acronym and I’ve been typing it wrong into Google this whole time?

Nope, it’s not the same thing, but it is similar in concept. Supply-side platforms, or sell-side platforms (SSPs), facilitate the sale of publisher inventory through an ad exchange. SSPs offer services such as minimum bid requirements in order for the publisher to maximize how much their ad space sells for. The difference is that DSPs are for marketers and SSPs are for publishers. SSPs (like DSPs) are plugged into multiple ad exchanges.

You keep mentioning ad exchanges. What are those? And why do DSPs and SSPs both need to be connected to ad exchanges?

Think of the ad exchange as the "go-between" in the automated buying world. An ad exchange is a digital marketplace that enables advertisers and publishers to buy and sell advertising space via real-time bidding (RTB). Meaning the ad exchange announces each impression—with the inventory flowing through DSPs and SSPs—in real time and asks buyers if they are interested in buying said impression and at which price.

All of this makes sense now, but I still don’t understand why I should use a DSP!

In order to understand why DSPs matter, it’s important to remember where the need came from and how the ad industry operated before automated buying. Traditionally, if you were a media buyer at an ad agency, the buying process was facilitated through human beings—it was you (the advertisers), the publishers (website where ad will appear), an audience (the viewer of the ad), and a bunch of spreadsheets and emails going back and forth negotiating prices. This process was complicated, time-consuming, and often error-prone. DSPs allow advertisers and agencies to buy across a lot of sites at the same time—and all of this is done instantly and efficiently, usually before the webpage loads.

DSPs offer a host of other benefits as well, including audience targeting capabilities, brand safety and fraud prevention tools, a real-time view of campaign performance, optimizations toward a goal, multi-tactic approaches, and flexible budget shifting.

Selecting the Right DSP for Your Programmatic Ads

How do I know which Demand side platform is right for me?

There are many DSPs in the programmatic world to choose from. Choosing the right DSP for you depends on a number of factors, like what type of data you need (first-party or third-party) and how many ad exchanges the DSP is plugged into, because that can affect reach. DSPs like Basis DSP give you access to over 40 billion daily impressions across all devices and channels. Other things to consider include cost, how much training and hands-on support you prefer, and ease of use—many DSPs have multiple, clunky or confusing user interfaces, which require a lot of education.

Speaking of training, I’m glad you mentioned that. What if I sign up for a Demand Side Platform and find out I have no idea what I’m doing?

Some DSPs come with a full team of experts, offering you everything from full-service to self-service and everything in between. With Basis DSP, you’ll start with a three-month platform training program, offering you an overview of programmatic, a walk-through of the interface, and best practices for campaign creation and optimization. Ongoing support is available in the form of a customer success manager and resources to keep you informed—like new feature webinars, best practice guides, and new quarterly business reviews.