Programmatic Advertising 101

When applying for an internship at Mediavest | Spark, recently rebranded as Spark Foundry, I applied to a program with a general title, Summer Internship 2017. After rounds of interviews, somewhere inside Publicis Groupe, the third largest media agency in the world, 35 interns are placed across various departments on different client accounts. We all arrived on the first day not knowing who we would work for or what kind of work we would be doing. One other intern and myself were assigned to the programmatic team, which was something neither of us had ever heard of before. After almost eight weeks out of the ten week program, I have learned so much about the multiple facets of the advertising world, including the concept of programmatic advertising, towards which the industry is moving for the future.


Programmatic advertising is when online ad inventory is bought in real time by artificial intelligence platforms in which agencies like Spark Foundry set campaign parameters. Clients come to Spark with a budget and an audience they would like to reach, and we work with technologies called demand-side platforms (DSPs) created by Google, Yahoo (now Oath), The Trade Desk, and many others to spend the budget in full in the most efficient manner possible to attract the most consumers to our client. Online publishers use supply-side platforms to sell their ad inventory in an auction where different agencies on different DSPs compete to show their content. The auction is called the ad exchange, and the process is often compared to the way stocks are traded.


After each campaign is launched, usually on a quarterly basis, programmatic analysts (like my internship managers) monitor their success according to several metrics. For example, if more consumers are clicking on ads served on Google Chrome rather than Safari, we program the DSP to bid on ads served on Safari at a lower rate than on those served on Google Chrome. If we are spending lots of money serving ads on a specific website, and none of that website’s visitors are interested in buying the product (and therefore do not click on the ads), we can block the DSP from bidding on ad inventory on that site. Incremental changes on the way the DSPs spend money for the client can greatly increase the efficiency of their campaigns, effectively lowering the cost per conversion or cost per acquisition of a new customer.


Though I had no idea what programmatic advertising was before I began this internship, I am so lucky that I was placed in this department, because I have learned this summer that other forms of media buying are becoming obsolete as the programmatic field grows. There is increasing demand for programmatic analysts, and they are being offered more competitive salaries and have more choices about which companies to work for as a result. By the time I am finished with college in two years, we do not know what the media industry will look like, though we do know that experience in the programmatic field will be a valuable skill when recruiting for a full time job.


Sarah is a rising junior from Boston majoring in Political Science and minoring in Complex Systems. She is interning in programmatic advertising at Spark Foundry in Manhattan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *