• Consumer Research

The Crazy Advertising Technology Landscape

Team InMobi
Team InMobi
5 min read
Posted on June 05, 2018
The Crazy Advertising Technology Landscape

If you’re new to mobile advertising or the advertising technology landscape in general, then it can be hard to know where to begin and who all the players are in the space. Below you’ll find a plethora of information about the various players in the ad tech ecosystem. Enjoy!



This may seem like a self-explanatory term, but let’s define it just to be sure. The “advertisers” or “brands” are one end of the mobile advertising technology landscape, and more of them are starting to turn to mobile to find and effectively reach their buyers. They’re looking to leverage geolocation, device ID (ADID) and other similar parameters a publisher can pass back to them to find the right user in the right place at the right time.

Media Agencies

Media agencies are companies dedicated to creating, planning and handling advertising (and sometimes other forms of promotion) for its clients. They typically decide whether to purchase inventory from one of three providers:

  1. Publishers - those hosting app or websites.
  2. Ad Networks - this is a company that has exclusive rights to sell the inventory from a specific group of publishers.
  3. Ad Exchanges - this is a programmatic buying marketplace where inventory is auctioned off to the highest bidder.

The media agency can choose to implement additional layers of reporting and verification tech to their campaigns. For instance, an ad server is a technology platform that can host and serve display ads, along with providing reporting and other important campaign analytics.

Most often, an agency will run their ads through an ad server in order to have an additional party tracking the reporting numbers. Running campaigns this way allows the media agency to have two sets of servers tracking impressions (the first being the publishers metrics) and clicks, which is an additional layer of verification and is safer than simply relying on the publisher’s numbers alone.

Ad Servers

This is a technology platform that hosts and serves display ads while also providing important campaign metrics and analytics. The ad server hosts the creative ad formats and acts as a delivery engine to display the correct ad when a user visits the publishers’ site or mobile app.

The ad server consolidates impressions and clicks (among other important campaign analytics) in one place and separates data by media partners. This allows media agencies to accurately monitor pacing and easily compare the performance of different vendors. There are some ad servers that can provide in-depth campaign analytics like engagement metrics and conversion reporting as well.

DCOs (Dynamic Creative Optimizers)

A Dynamic Creative Optimization company improves an advertiser’s creative performance by enhancing the ad unit’s features. A DCO company will often serve the creative, then layer on rich media-like functionality and allow for dynamic messaging. For example, some DCOs offer solutions to create dynamic ads with layered features like videos, maps and carousel galleries.

Trading Desks

These are specialized media buying groups that most commonly work for (or within) an ad agency. They’ll either use proprietary technology or a Demand Side Platform (DSP) to buy and optimize media campaigns on ad exchanges, ad networks and other available inventory sources they are connected with. For example, XAXIS optimizes media buying for WPP (a very large agency) and Vivaki optimizes media buying for Publicis Groupe.

Interestingly, a trading desk can either use its own tech (and act like a DSP) or leverage multiple DSPs to buy media for a campaign. They could also layer on an ad server to offer an additional layer of tracking and analytics for their campaigns.

Verification Tech

Verification services add an additional layer of tech to each ad campaign. The purpose is to give the advertiser a deeper look into how their campaign is performing.

The additional information an advertiser gains using a verification service would include things like:

  • The percent of ads displayed that were viewable to the end user.
  • What specific websites/apps the ad ran on.
  • If the ad unit was displayed correctly.
  • If the ad unit was placed next to questionable content.

Verification services will send a media agency a snippet of code that will be appended to ad units on the ad server. The snippet of code will fire every time the ad unit is displayed. It then sends the verification company the details it collects in the process. Ultimately, the verification company will assemble the data into a report and send it back to the media agency or advertiser. This information allows the agency to make decisions on which publisher, network or exchange is the best fit for their next campaign.

Measurement Tech

These companies provide their clients with additional campaign analytics and insights that go beyond what’s available from the ad server. The data allows advertisers to better predict and understand consumer behavior to make decisions that lead to more revenue.

For example, a company like MetaMarkets can provide real-time analytics and act as a data intelligence layer for advertisers. It can query billions of records per second and plug directly into each campaign’s data stream. It’s also able to highlight key metrics and optimizations in real time from multiple sources with almost no lag time.


Retargeting is an online advertising strategy where an advertisement will be displayed to users based on the actions the user has recently made on the web. Retargeting companies will often sit between multiple ad exchanges, giving them access to use their proprietary software to buy inventory on the exchange and act like a DSP. Retargeting companies can also leverage user activity data collected from client websites to track and retarget a user who has visited a certain page on the site.

A DMP can also be leveraged by a retargeting company to provide additional information like a user’s offline purchase activity. This could allow the retargeting company to serve ads dynamically based on in-store purchase data, for example.

DSPs (Demand Side Platforms)

A DSP is an online platform that gives advertisers the ability to easily buy display ads on ad exchanges, ad networks and other available inventory sources they are connected with.

A DSP is an extremely popular buying platform because it enables advertisers to buy from a wide selection of inventory, optimize their campaign performance and view reporting analytics from a central interface.

From time to time, a DSP can be used for real-time bidding (RTB). This gives advertisers the ability to buy media across multiple ad exchanges. DSPs also often centralize ad bidding and reporting to one interface.

For example, ad exchanges like DoubleClick by Google and OpenX are both marketplaces for advertisers to bid and auction for available ad inventory from publishers. In this case, the DSP would have access to allow users to bid on the inventory available across both exchanges.

Also, a DSP will often allow the advertisers to plug in data collected by a third party (like a DMP). This data can be leveraged to create a target audience and better optimize campaign performance.

DMPs (Data Management Platform)

This technology collects, stores and packages the consumer data it receives from various data suppliers. These companies then make these packages of data available to various ad tech partners. The data is ultimately used to create targeted audience profiles and optimize campaign performance.

Data Suppliers

These companies collect, compile and sell online and offline consumer data. Some data these companies collect include:

  • Geographic information
  • Household income
  • Lifestyle preferences
  • Shopping behaviors

These data suppliers will often sell information to DMPs. Then the DMP will package the information and make it readily available for other ad tech companies to use.

Ad Exchanges

This is a technology platform that helps facilitate the programmatic purchase and sale of ad inventory. Simply, an ad exchange is a facilitator that makes buying and selling ad inventory programmatic and more efficient, most often by selling ads across the exchange through RTB.

When a DSP accesses inventory available on the ad exchange, the supply side platform will provide the inventory available on the exchange. Ultimately, an ad exchange can increase the inventory available by either accessing multiple SSPs or multiple ad networks.

From time to time, larger companies with a network of publishers under one umbrella company will create their own ad exchange, allowing inventory from its own network of sites to be available for purchase.

Ad Networks

Ad networks are companies that have exclusive rights to sell inventory from a specific group of publishers. Typically, these are packaged with publishers that have the same demographic of consumers and targeted audience sets. The ad network will often pre-buy this inventory from publishers, package it up and then resell to an advertiser for a profit. This means advertisers won’t bid on inventory, instead purchasing inventory on a fixed CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) basis.

There are two types of networks, a “Vertical Network” and a “Horizontal Network”:

Vertical Networks

This means the vendor is 100% transparent about the inventory being purchased and the sites the advertiser is running on for the campaign. Typically, running a campaign on a vertical network will come at premium price but will be a higher quality and generally offer better performance.

Horizontal Networks

This means the network is less than or not transparent about the inventory being purchased or the sites the advertiser will be running on. It’s a lot like running a blind campaign. These networks will run an advertiser’s campaign on inventory that is both pre-purchased and a mix of demographically targeted sites they’ll bid on from the ad exchange. Performance will vary depending on the quality of sites they have pre-purchased inventory from and the ad exchanges it accesses, as well as the data available to the network via a DMP. While these are less expensive than Vertical Networks, the risk is lower quality campaigns.

SSPs (Supply Side Platforms)

A Supply Side Platform is a technology platform that makes it easier for a publisher to manage and sell its inventory on multiple ad exchanges and ad networks. The SSP is where the publisher would set the price and audience type of its inventory, in an attempt to optimize its revenue yield. The SSP is where a publisher can sell its inventory across multiple ad exchanges and ad networks through ad mediation.

Once the publisher makes inventory available through the SSP, it can set different preferences such as:

  • Price floor
  • Who it wants the inventory bought by
  • The type of ads it wants displayed on the app or site

The SSP’s job is to optimize selling pricing, maintain the quality of advertisements and extend the buyer’s reach.

Publishers (Mobile and Desktop)

In the advertising landscape, a publisher is the one with the eyes and the users. Publishers are websites and mobile apps that earn revenue from advertiser dollars. The more efficient a publisher is with its advertising stack, the more likely it is to earn more revenue.

We hope you found this helpful! Are there any other terms you’d like us to define here? If so, please let us know in the comments below.

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