Programmatic vs. Direct Media | 9xb Digital Agency

Programmatic vs. Direct Media

Marketing has changed over the years but one thing still remains the same, the need to connect with users at moments that matter. Depending on whether you choose direct media buying or programmatic, ultimately the result is the same; you are paying to place your ad on a publisher’s site. Each approach has its pros and cons so we have compared a few characteristics of the two purchasing options to help explain the differences.


When buying direct, impressions are bought in bulk, in order for your ads to be seen in a specific context. The ability to target your ads by location or browser type are available but ultimately you are targeting your ads to a specific website. This can work well for buyers that are sensitive to the placement of their ads, or that have the ability to pay premium prices to secure specific inventory. Working directly with publishers more scope with the creative of your ads, for example, rich media formats like page take overs can also provide.
With programmatic, every impression is evaluated and profiled within milliseconds whilst the page loads. You can target the ads by demographic, location, device and behavioural levels, but the reach of programmatic allows you to do so on a variety of websites, making it possible to target audiences on a much bigger scale. So instead of being restricted to buying ad space on a specific website to reach your audience, programmatic allows you to place ads on multiple sites that your target audience may visit.


When buying directly you agree to buy ad inventory at a fixed CPM that the site owner will deliver during your campaign. With that, the inventory is almost guaranteed or ‘reserved’ for you, and unless there are any external problems, you will receive the impressions that were pre agreed. This is the best method if you have specific exposure goals and need a high level of certainty that the campaign will deliver.
With programmatic you are in a bidding auction with other advertisers, all bidding different amounts for impressions, in real time. Using this method, ad inventory is not guaranteed due to the dynamic environment and unpredictability of the marketplace.
Whilst not knowing what others are bidding, there simply is no guarantee that you will win the impressions you are bidding on. With this in mind, guaranteed buys generally take priority over real time bidding ads. This means if the demand increases for guaranteed inventory on a particular site, the supply left available for programmatic ads, on that particular site, decreases.


Direct media buying requires human input when it comes to planning and implementing your campaigns. To start you need to reach out and contact publishers to negotiate pricing, ad sizes, audiences, length of campaign etc. As the campaign is technically in the hands of the publisher there can be a slight delay when it comes to campaign management and reporting. A process which could be handed instantaneously with a programmatic solution.
In contrast, programmatic processes are driven by user interfaces and algorithms, instead of manual elements such as phone calls. There are still manual elements required, however with programmatic such as ad quality review, tech support etc but very little in comparison with dealing directly with publishers. Programmatic deals in real time, from controlling the flow of the campaign, to reporting and daily optimisation.


Direct media is almost always priced at fixed CPM rates, this is where the inventory is sold in bulk and the impressions are priced at the same price. This method is more expensive than RTB.
With programmatic, the impressions are auctioned off. As you are bidding on individual impressions separately, the defect metric for RTB pricing is eCPM (effective CPM).
Overall, whichever method you take to deliver ads to your audience, be sure to deliver relevant, engaging campaigns where you can elevate people’s appeal, and ultimately you will be rewarded with brand loyalty. To discuss paid advertising options further, please do not hesitate to contact our team.