Marketing Brand Awareness: Direct vs Programmatic Media Buying

A high-performing paid search marketing strategy is essential for a strong, successful, integrated marketing campaign. At Zozimus, we believe that every media buying campaign should be customized and tailored for each of our clients. EVP, Digital Marketing and Analytics, David Wilson, explores the advantages and disadvantages of direct media buying versus programmatic media buying.

Direct Media Buying

Direct ad buying is a traditional media buying tactic, and occurs when an advertiser finds a publisher, negotiates the price, buys the necessary inventory, and finally, publishes an advertisement on the website of their choosing.

Direct buying can also be referred to as the manual buying of ad space from publishers or ad networks, which involves price negotiation and order confirmations, both of which are reliant on human interaction.

Advantages of Direct Media Buying

Guaranteed Impressions:

Direct buys are guaranteed as advertisers get the ad placement for which they paid. This eliminates the situation of bidding in an unpredictable marketplace with leftover inventory, with no certainty that you’ll win what you bid on.

Reach Target Audience:

By purchasing ads directly on relevant websites, clients are guaranteed to get their message in front all visitors to those websites. This includes their target audience as well as tangential audiences who also visit these websites.

Non-Digital Options:

With direct buys, there are usually additional advertising options like print, newsletters or email that are not available to programmatic buyers.

Better Ad Placement:

Publishers who sell ads directly on their websites, usually offer the best placement for these ads when compared to programmatic ad placement. 

Avoid Walled Gardens:

There could be some publishers that only sell their ad space directly. They offer no inventory to the programmatic marketplace. Buy purchasing ad space directly, clients can access this ad inventory and audience exposure. 

Disadvantages of Direct Media Buying

Manual Reporting:

Each publisher reports their analytics separately, meaning that there is no way to know whether clients would be reaching all of their target audience, or just reaching a sub-segment of their intended audience. 


Publishers offer print advertising in addition to digital ads. These offline publications, if used, can make campaign tracking and attribution challenging, making it difficult to determine what advertising channel/website is working best.

Programmatic Media Buying

Programmatic media buying is the process through which advertisers bid on inventory slots in a real-time auction. Bids are placed simultaneously by advertisers, and the advertiser with the highest bid wins the ad inventory. Inventory is typically available on these websites for two reasons. One – is that the publishers specifically reserves ad spots for programmatic advertisers. Two – is that this is Remnant inventory, which is the left-over inventory that publishers were unable to sell via their premium deals like direct ad sale.

In 2022, eMarketer predicts that a shade more than 90% of digital display ad dollars will be transacted programmatically.

Advantages of Programmatic Media Buying

Targeted Ads:

Programmatic buying means that your advertisement appears in front of only the audience that you select, and not to the general population of website visitors. Being able to target specific audience segments, with unique messaging is the most powerful aspect of programmatic media buying.  

Website Diversity:

Advertisers can more cost effectively buy ads wherever their target audience goes online. They are not restricted to appearing on a handful of websites due to budget realties.

Data & Analytics:

The automated aspect of programmatic buying means that Zozimus will have direct access to the real-time data that we need to manage and optimize campaign performance.

This means that we can a better react to market changes, tailor messaging for audience personalization, and A/B test across multiple channels. Clients will essentially be able to stay one step ahead of the competition, who only makes direct ad buys.

Programmatic Audio:

Advertisers can buy ads through programmatic audio which offers advanced audience segmentation parameters, like location, point of interest, device, format, genre and more. Through this channel, the ability to engage a user in the right place, at the right time, and within the right context becomes just that bit more accessible.

Disadvantages of Programmatic Media Buying

No Guarantees:

Unlike Direct Media Buying where you are guaranteed to have an ad displayed, there is no guarantee with programmatic ad buying because it is an auction environment. While in theory clients might never have its ads shown, because it keeps getting outbid, there is more ad inventory than advertisers so this never happens.

Ad Fraud:

This is the biggest disadvantage of programmatic advertising. DSPs (Demand-Side Platforms, which is a type of software that allows an advertiser to buy advertising with the help of automation) and SSPs (Supply-Side Platforms, used by online publishers to help them sell display, video and mobile ads) can only identify bot traffic afterwards, so there is the potential for ad fraud. We work with our Partner Resonate on brand safety and fraud protection with any programmatic campaign.

Choosing the Right Media Buying Strategy for Your Brand

Our Digital Marketing team tailors each of our media buying campaigns and strategies to each of our clients. We understand that media buying isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescriptive service. It’s important to us to create a bespoke campaign and experience for each of our clients. Get in touch with us today to learn how your brands dreams can come true with Zozimus.


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At Zozimus, it’s important to us that we achieve great results, while still maintaining authenticity and thorough strategy for your brand. Our team is committed to working hard to make your dreams come true, while not taking ourselves too seriously in the process. We’re ready to dive into your next campaign together.