What Is Ad Tech?

5 min

In today's digital age, advertising technology, or ad tech, plays a pivotal role in shap...

By Eda Osman

Marketing Manager

In today's digital age, advertising technology, or ad tech, plays a pivotal role in shaping how businesses reach their audiences. From the ads we see online to the personalised marketing tactics used by companies, cutting-edge advertising technology is the marketing innovation driving these effective strategies. 

Although it involves a complex network of components, ad tech has a relatively straightforward goal: to streamline the process of digital advertising using innovative tools and platforms. Whether you're a marketer seeking insights or simply curious about the mechanisms behind online advertising, this guide will provide a clear overview of ad tech's fundamentals, innovations, and impact in the ever-evolving landscape of digital advertising.

We’ll cover the evolution of ad tech, the functions that power advertising technology, the various benefits that ad tech offers for digital marketers, and the role that ad tech is likely to play in the future. 

The Evolution of Ad Tech

To understand how ad tech has been able to revolutionise the landscape of digital marketing, it is important to delve into its origins and growth. Prior to the digital revolution of the late 20th century, the advertising scene consisted of traditional mediums, including print, radio, and television. The dramatic rise of the internet in the late 1990s ushered in a wide array of innovative, digitally-powered advertising techniques, such as banner ads and pop-ups. However, these methods were soon deemed intrusive and lacking in detailed targeting. 

Advertisers were looking for cutting-edge technology that allowed for more precise targeting, and in the early 2010s, their needs were met with the emergence of programmatic advertising. Programmatic advertising took the industry by storm by automating the buying and selling of ad inventory via algorithms and data-driven decision-making. This digital marketing innovation enabled real-time optimisation, efficient ad buying at scale, and crucially, precise targeting. 

Programmatic advertising plays a vital role in the modern ad tech industry, with research from Insider Intelligence revealing that programmatic advertising is set to account for more than 90% of digital ad spending in 2023. Ad tech has come a long way from the banner ad and pop-up days of the early 2000s, and today, it is common practice for digital marketers to utilise ad tech as an essential part of their operations. 

Many businesses, particularly DTC companies, leverage advertising technology in their social media advertising strategies. If you’d like to learn more about how your company can more effectively incorporate social media techniques into your digital marketing efforts, check out our ‘How to Leverage Social Media for Success in DTC Marketing’ guide. 

Understanding Ad Tech’s Functions 

As we explored in the previous section, the development of advertising technology has had far-reaching effects on the digital marketing space. The shift from traditional marketing methods to digital techniques has undoubtedly brought numerous benefits, and we’ll be delving into these advantages in detail later. So, how does ad tech actually work? What are the functions that have enabled it to emerge as such a pivotal digital marketing innovation? 

Loosely speaking, ad tech refers to a selection of tools, software, and platforms designed to optimise the buying, selling, creation, and targeting of online advertisements. By utilising cutting-edge technological innovations, ad tech has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of advertising campaigns, ensuring that ads teach the target audience at the ideal time. 

The functions of advertising technology can best be summarised by the concept of the ad tech ecosystem, an interconnected network of technology and services that facilitate the buying, delivery, and measurement of digital advertising efforts. This ecosystem includes a selection of important components, all of which work in tandem to optimise the online advertising process. Here are the most significant components within this ecosystem: 

  • Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs): DSPs are platforms used by advertisers and agencies to purchase ad inventory from multiple ad exchanges and publishers through real-time bidding and programmatic buying.
  • Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs): Designed to optimise pricing and boost revenue, supply-side platforms are used by publishers to manage and sell advertising inventory via ad exchanges. 
  • Ad Exchanges: Ad exchange platforms are purpose-built to facilitate the buying and selling of ad inventory via real-time auctions. They are ideal for advertisers and publishers looking to trade digital ad space.  
  • Ad Servers: Ad servers are designed to store, manage, and deliver online advertisements to digital platforms like websites and mobile applications. 
  • Data Management Platforms (DMPs): Data management platforms can collect and analyse audience data to enable marketers to devise more targeted and personalised advertising campaigns.

Ultimately, the main goal of the ad tech ecosystem is to ensure that highly personalised advertisements are delivered to the intended audience efficiently. It is important to note that the ad tech ecosystem is constantly evolving to keep up with technological advancements, changes in consumer behaviour, and alterations to privacy regulations. If you are a business looking to reap the rewards of ad tech, be sure to stay up to date with the latest developments and best practices. 

What Are the Benefits of Ad Tech?

The tech-driven transformation of the advertising industry has significantly altered digital marketing, with online advertising spending now accounting for the majority of overall marketing budgets. Given that a staggering 63% of businesses claim to have increased their digital marketing budgets in the past year alone, it is clear that ad tech is set to remain a go-to marketing technique for the foreseeable future. 

So, what are the reasons behind this era-defining marketing trend? What are the tangible advantages of utilising advertising technology? 

To give you a thorough understanding of why so many digital marketers are choosing to invest so heavily in online marketing tools such as ad tech, let’s explore the key benefits that advertising technology offers: 

1. Targeted Advertising 

Ad tech allows advertisers to reach specific audiences based on various metrics, including demographics, interests, and behaviour. With enhanced targeting and ad personalisation, digital marketers have a greater chance of reaching their desired audience with the right messaging, thereby improving the effectiveness of marketing campaigns with more leads and conversions. 

There is much analysis to suggest that targeted advertising is effective in driving revenue. Figures compiled by Enterprise Apps Today show that some of the world’s largest tech companies have greatly benefited from targeted advertising. A staggering 99% of Facebook’s revenue is generated via targeted ads, while Google has been able to raise $147 billion dollars through enhanced ad personalisation. 

Although some ethical dilemmas are associated with targeted advertising, such as privacy concerns and whether users are adequately informed enough to provide consent, greater ad personalisation is undoubtedly an effective marketing strategy. 

2. Data-Driven Insights 

Another significant advantage of ad tech platforms is their ability to generate data analytics and insights. By leveraging advertising technology tools, advertisers and digital marketers can gain valuable information regarding user behaviour, conversion rates, engagement levels, and other metrics. This data-driven approach can effectively optimise advertising campaigns and improve return on investment. 

With 91% of brands using data-driven marketing to decide how to allocate their advertising budget, it is unsurprising why an increasing number of advertisers are choosing to leverage ad tech. Ad tech is able to provide data-driven insights via a number of analytics techniques, including: 

  • Data Visualisation: Data visualisation tools can translate complex data into charts, graphs, and dashboards that are easy to understand. This handy method of gaining crucial insights enables advertisers to identify trends that inform data-driven decisions. 
  • Attribution Modelling: Advertisers can utilise attribution models to assess the effectiveness of marketing campaigns by attributing conversions to specific touchpoints. Guided by these findings, advertisers can decide on the best methods for optimising their digital marketing strategies. 
  • Machine Learning: Machine learning may be used in various aspects of ad tech, including personalisation, audience segmentation, and ad optimisation. Owing to their ability to analyse large quantities of data, machine learning algorithms can predict trends and generate insights far more efficiently than traditional techniques.

Companies that fail to leverage data-driven marketing often find themselves at a disadvantage compared to those that do. According to statistics gathered by Porch Media Group, one in five customers regularly switch brands, and seven in ten routinely try new digital shopping channels. As customer behaviour is becoming more complex and the demand for personalised shopping experiences is increasing, it is imperative for businesses to use ad tech to gain all-important data-driven insights. 

3. Automation and Efficiency 

Ad tech allows digital marketers to boost automation and efficiency in their digital marketing efforts. One of the ways it achieves this is through programmatic advertising, the process of utilising automated technology for buying and selling digital advertising. By leveraging automated systems, the need for manual negotiations and paperwork is eliminated, enabling advertisers to buy ad inventory in real-time auctions. 

Ad automation allows employees to focus on more creative and important tasks, thereby increasing productivity and reducing the risk of burnout. Enhanced automation and efficiency can also save companies a substantial amount of revenue. According to Instapage, advertising automation can save up to $130,000 a year, a significant sum that underlines the potential of ad tech-powered automation. 

Overall, ad tech's impressive automation capabilities and data-driven approach can significantly enhance the efficiency of advertising campaigns, making the process more streamlined, targeted, and responsive to the ever-changing nature of consumer behaviour.

What the Future Holds for Ad Tech 

As the digital revolution continues to reshape the marketing space, the future of ad tech is particularly promising. Throughout 2023, advertisers increased ad tech spending by 29%. This considerable investment illustrates the industry’s commitment to the development of advertising technology. As well as a dramatic increase in funding, what other trends are contributing to ad tech’s bright future? 

Let’s examine the most important trends that are set to affect advertising technology in the coming years: 

The Advancement of AI and Machine Learning 

AI and machine learning have already significantly impacted ad tech, and given the level of investment pouring into the progression of these cutting-edge technologies, it is likely that they will continue to do so over the coming years. A report by MediaRadar found that digital AI ads account for 58% of overall ad expenditure, an eye-catching figure that highlights the extent of AI’s influence on ad tech. AI will continue to enable better targeting, personalisation, and automation in advertising technology. 

An Increasingly Complex Regulatory Landscape

Many industries have been affected by the introduction of a raft of new regulations over the past few years, and the digital marketing space is no exception. With issues like globalisation, the evolving complexity of industries, and political pressures continuing to necessitate legislative changes, advertisers must learn to adapt to the ever-evolving regulatory landscape. Data privacy regulations, limitations on targeting, and higher compliance costs are sure to impact digital advertising to an even greater degree going forward. 

Innovations in Advertising Formats 

The variety of available advertising formats has grown considerably since the rise of the internet. Innovations in advertising formats continuously shape the world of advertising technology, influencing advertisers in their efforts to reach and engage with audiences. For example, the emergence of immersive ads has made it possible for users to interact with personalised advertisements in ways that were previously not possible. Other advertising format trends that are forecast to drive advancements in ad tech include the rise of video streaming services, the growing popularity of native advertising, and 5G technology. 

The Functions, Advantages, and Future of Ad Tech: Key Takeaways 

This guide examined many aspects of this simple yet prescient question - what is ad tech? 

To say that advertising technology has transformed digital marketing is certainly no understatement. Offering targeted ads, data-driven insights, enhanced automation and innovation, and significant cost savings, ad tech has proven to be an effective method of streamlining the delivery of advertisements to specific audiences. 

The crucial role played by ad tech lies in its ability to streamline the digital advertising process through a comprehensive ecosystem comprising demand-side and supply-side platforms, ad exchanges, ad servers, and data management platforms. These components work together to deliver personalised advertisements to the target audiences more efficiently than via traditional advertising means. 

Ad tech has already made a considerable impact on today’s digital marketing landscape, and due to trends like AI advancement and an ever-evolving regulatory landscape, it is clear that it will continue to have a significant influence for the foreseeable future. 

To gain an edge over the growing competition, businesses must embrace digital transformation and adapt to new technology, ensuring that they successfully harness ad tech’s full potential in their marketing strategies. 

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