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A Plain English Guide to Real Time Bidding

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A Plain English Guide to Real Time Bidding

Because of its efficiency and cost-effectiveness, real-time bidding (RTB) has become one of the most popular ways to purchase ad inventory online.

But even for experienced marketers, real-time bidding can be a very confusing concept. So let’s break down what RTB is, how it works, and the pros and cons of using it — all while keeping it jargon-free.

In this post, you’ll learn: 

Let’s get started. 

Real-time bidding is the driving force behind most programmatic advertising campaigns. Programmatic advertising is “the automated process of purchasing and selling online ads.” Real-time bidding allows advertisers to automatically buy ad inventory, place the ads online, and get a certain number of impressions in their programmatic advertising campaigns. 

⭐Don’t have time to read the entire post? Listen to our podcast below about real-time bidding and programmatic advertising: 
Click here to find more valuable content from the MarTech podcast. 

In a traditional media buying process, you have to manually buy ads. Let’s say that you find a magazine that serves your buyer persona. You ask for the media kit, choose the ad dimensions that fit your budget, and then buy the ad for a certain amount of time. Once time runs out, the ad is taken down.

Real-time bidding takes out all of that work. You can get space on that magazine and hundreds of others by letting a Demand-Side Platform (DSP) automatically choose the best publishers and ad spaces, then bid on them for you. You set several certain targeting parameters, such as maximum bid price and target audience. These parameters then determine where your ads are placed.

The publisher accepts your ad only if you place the highest bid. But remember: real-time bidding automatically does all the bidding. You don’t have to take any additional steps.

Still confused? No worries. We break down the concept further below.

How does real-time bidding work?

There are several pieces involved in the real-time bidding process. Let’s take a look at each one of them one-by-one before putting it all together.

  • Advertiser: The advertiser is the company or brand that wants to place an ad online.
  • Demand-Side Platform (DSP): The Demand-Side Platform is the service advertisers use to launch ad campaigns.
  • Publisher: The publisher is the website or online property that wants to sell ad spaces, often referred to as “ad inventory.”
  • Supply-Side Platform (SSP): The Supply-Side Platform is the service publishers use to make ad inventory available. SSPs run auctions where ad spaces are instantly purchased by the highest bidder. But this can’t happen unless an ad exchange facilitates the transaction.
  • Ad Exchanges: The ad exchange connects companies who want to advertise and publishers who want to sell ad space. Ad exchanges carry out the bidding transaction automatically in real time by connecting both Demand-Side Platforms and Supply-Side Platforms.
  • Impressions: Impressions refers to the number of times an ad is seen or scrolled past. In the real-time bidding process, advertisers don’t pay for one individual impression, but rather the cost per thousand impressions (CPM).

Now, let’s put it together. How exactly does real-time bidding work?

On the advertiser side, marketers use DSPs to set up their ad campaign and track its performance. Publishers, on the other hand, use Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs) to list their ad inventory and the price they charge. They then meet in the middle at the ad exchange, the marketplace where the real-time bidding actually takes place.

To determine what ad inventory to bid on, advertisers will set targeting parameters. For instance, a brand may only want to target users who are in a specific region or have visited their website recently.

So, advertisers, or specifically their Demand-Side Platforms, evaluate ad potential in real time and decide whether or not to place a bid and how much to bid.

Remember, advertisers set their bid through the Demand-Side Platform, while publishers’ Supply-Side Platform either accept or reject the bid. The prices are negotiated on a cost per thousand impressions, so the advertiser isn’t paying based on uptime or even dimensions. Instead, they’re paying for the amount of times, in thousands, that their ad is seen.

Let’s go through another example of how it works.

Real-Time Bidding Example

Let’s say Silk is a UK-based beauty brand that just launched a new brow line and is running a campaign. They set up their campaign on a Demand-Side Platform (DSP) and are targeting users who regularly shop for makeup products, are located in the Manchester area, and are between 18 to 30 years of age. The brand also wants its ads to only show on sites related to beauty and lifestyle.

A user visits a publisher’s site. The publisher’s Supply-Side Platform (SSP) sends a bid request to the ad exchange, where Silk’s DSP will be evaluating the value of the impression. The DSP will then determine if the user meets the parameters outlined in the campaign. If so, the DSP will submit a bid.

If Silk has the winning bid, the user will see the ad once the page loads. This process happens thousands of times on different webpages during the length of Silk’s ad campaign.

Silk’s paid ads manager will also be monitoring their ad’s performance on the DSP to see if it’s reaching the desired audience, or if the parameters should be adjusted.

Real-Time Bidding Platforms

There are no RTB platforms because real-time bidding is a method of purchasing impressions, not a channel. However, you can use tools that can help you start the real-time bidding process. These tools help you either purchase ad inventory or place ad inventory for sale through RTB.

Below, we break down some platforms you might use if you’re looking to sell or purchase ad inventory online.

Real-Time Bidding Platforms For Advertisers

As an advertiser, you’ll want to find a Demand-Side Platform that allows you to manage several ad campaigns and set specific targeting parameters — down to the user’s most visited websites and preferred brands. Here are a few options:

  • AdRoll: Self-serve Demand-Side Platform that’s a good fit for beginners in the programmatic advertising space.
  • mediasmart: Self-serve Demand-Side Platform that provides advanced targeting and segmentation capabilities. Good fit if you’ve set up ad campaigns with other tools, such as Google Ads.
  • theTradeDesk: Demand-Side Platform that allows you to place ads on multiple devices, including TV ad rolls, online videos, music streaming devices, mobile apps, and publishers across the web. Good fit if you’re planning to advertise across all of these channels.

Real-Time Bidding Platforms for Publishers

If you have ad inventory to sell, then signing up on a Supply-Side Platform is essential to take advantage of the real-time bidding process. You don’t have to speak with any advertisers, negotiate prices, or do any of the manual work that’s typically associated with account management.

Here are a few channels that will allow you to sell ad inventory through real-time bidding:

  • Magnite: Supply-Side Platform for large-scale ad inventory sellers who also want to sell ad space through Private Marketplace (PMP) and Programmatic Guaranteed (PG). Good fit if you’re an experienced ad seller that wants to upgrade to a more capable system.
  • Index Exchange: Supply-side marketplace that allows you to get started with ad inventory selling on multiple channels, including display, video, mobile, and native. Good fit if you’d like to start selling ad inventory or if you plan to take advantage of all of the available channels.

You can find more SSPs here.

Still not sure whether you should sell or buy ad space through real-time bidding? We go over the pros and cons below.

Real-Time Bidding Pros

Better Tracking

With RTB, advertisers can monitor their campaigns easily without relying on vendors. No need to reach out to multiple publishers and ask for reports, you can get them yourself on your DSP.

This also gives marketers the agility to pivot quickly if their campaign isn’t performing as expected. For instance, you might find that switching out one keyword for another may boost your campaign’s performance and align better with the audience you want to reach.

Better Targeting

When purchasing ads through RTB, you buy one impression at a time. This means that every time a website visitor or mobile app user visits a publisher’s site, you’re able to assess that person’s particular profile and see if it matches your target audience.

It makes for more accurate targeting as you can ensure your ads are only reaching the right people at the right time.

More Cost-Effective

The precision of the real-time bidding algorithm allows marketers to spend their ad dollars on high-value impressions.

Too often, brands launch marketing campaigns that only reach a portion of their target market, leaving the rest of the budget wasted on users who don’t fit the profile.

In addition, RTB takes much of the manual labor out of the online advertising process, allowing marketers to focus on other efforts.

Real-Time Bidding Cons

Compromised Brand Safety

Where your ad shows up is as important as who sees it. This is because consumers judge brands’ ads based on the surrounding content.

An Ad Colony survey reported that 60% of consumers have a negative perception of brands whose ads appear near inappropriate, hateful, or offensive content. This can be anything from a site that hosts pirated movies to sites promoting hate speech.

Due to the nature of RTB, there is a risk your ad may appear on a site with content you wouldn’t want your brand associated with. However, brands can limit this issue by putting certain keywords and sites on a “deny” list. This protects brands from showing up on webpages or mobile apps that don’t align with their identity.

Potential Ad Fraud

Ad fraud happens when scammers (or any parties with ill intent) try to trick digital ad networks by falsifying impressions and clicks using bots. Obviously, bots aren’t real people — so they aren’t potential buyers you can eventually convert into customers. Because you don’t get to hand-pick publishers through real-time bidding, there’s the very real chance your ad might be seen by bots instead of real people. The rising sophistication of bots can also cause brands to gather inaccurate data on their campaigns.

Some deceitful publishers fabricate impressions to steal from advertisers. One way to combat this is by using a DSP or ad network with fraud detection software.

Real-Time Bidding is the Easiest Way to Increase Brand Awareness

Real-time bidding makes the online advertisement process fast and easy. Marketers can skip the back-and-forth previously associated with ad buying and focus on tracking the results, increasing the ROI from your campaigns and empowering your brand to grow better.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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YouTube Ad Specs, Sizes, and Examples [2024 Update]

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YouTube Ad Specs, Sizes, and Examples

Introduction

With billions of users each month, YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine and top website for video content. This makes it a great place for advertising. To succeed, advertisers need to follow the correct YouTube ad specifications. These rules help your ad reach more viewers, increasing the chance of gaining new customers and boosting brand awareness.

Types of YouTube Ads

Video Ads

  • Description: These play before, during, or after a YouTube video on computers or mobile devices.
  • Types:
    • In-stream ads: Can be skippable or non-skippable.
    • Bumper ads: Non-skippable, short ads that play before, during, or after a video.

Display Ads

  • Description: These appear in different spots on YouTube and usually use text or static images.
  • Note: YouTube does not support display image ads directly on its app, but these can be targeted to YouTube.com through Google Display Network (GDN).

Companion Banners

  • Description: Appears to the right of the YouTube player on desktop.
  • Requirement: Must be purchased alongside In-stream ads, Bumper ads, or In-feed ads.

In-feed Ads

  • Description: Resemble videos with images, headlines, and text. They link to a public or unlisted YouTube video.

Outstream Ads

  • Description: Mobile-only video ads that play outside of YouTube, on websites and apps within the Google video partner network.

Masthead Ads

  • Description: Premium, high-visibility banner ads displayed at the top of the YouTube homepage for both desktop and mobile users.

YouTube Ad Specs by Type

Skippable In-stream Video Ads

  • Placement: Before, during, or after a YouTube video.
  • Resolution:
    • Horizontal: 1920 x 1080px
    • Vertical: 1080 x 1920px
    • Square: 1080 x 1080px
  • Aspect Ratio:
    • Horizontal: 16:9
    • Vertical: 9:16
    • Square: 1:1
  • Length:
    • Awareness: 15-20 seconds
    • Consideration: 2-3 minutes
    • Action: 15-20 seconds

Non-skippable In-stream Video Ads

  • Description: Must be watched completely before the main video.
  • Length: 15 seconds (or 20 seconds in certain markets).
  • Resolution:
    • Horizontal: 1920 x 1080px
    • Vertical: 1080 x 1920px
    • Square: 1080 x 1080px
  • Aspect Ratio:
    • Horizontal: 16:9
    • Vertical: 9:16
    • Square: 1:1

Bumper Ads

  • Length: Maximum 6 seconds.
  • File Format: MP4, Quicktime, AVI, ASF, Windows Media, or MPEG.
  • Resolution:
    • Horizontal: 640 x 360px
    • Vertical: 480 x 360px

In-feed Ads

  • Description: Show alongside YouTube content, like search results or the Home feed.
  • Resolution:
    • Horizontal: 1920 x 1080px
    • Vertical: 1080 x 1920px
    • Square: 1080 x 1080px
  • Aspect Ratio:
    • Horizontal: 16:9
    • Square: 1:1
  • Length:
    • Awareness: 15-20 seconds
    • Consideration: 2-3 minutes
  • Headline/Description:
    • Headline: Up to 2 lines, 40 characters per line
    • Description: Up to 2 lines, 35 characters per line

Display Ads

  • Description: Static images or animated media that appear on YouTube next to video suggestions, in search results, or on the homepage.
  • Image Size: 300×60 pixels.
  • File Type: GIF, JPG, PNG.
  • File Size: Max 150KB.
  • Max Animation Length: 30 seconds.

Outstream Ads

  • Description: Mobile-only video ads that appear on websites and apps within the Google video partner network, not on YouTube itself.
  • Logo Specs:
    • Square: 1:1 (200 x 200px).
    • File Type: JPG, GIF, PNG.
    • Max Size: 200KB.

Masthead Ads

  • Description: High-visibility ads at the top of the YouTube homepage.
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080 or higher.
  • File Type: JPG or PNG (without transparency).

Conclusion

YouTube offers a variety of ad formats to reach audiences effectively in 2024. Whether you want to build brand awareness, drive conversions, or target specific demographics, YouTube provides a dynamic platform for your advertising needs. Always follow Google’s advertising policies and the technical ad specs to ensure your ads perform their best. Ready to start using YouTube ads? Contact us today to get started!

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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