top of page

Media Buying vs Programmatic Buying

Digital marketers have different strategies to help their clients to advertise their products and services through various channels, including search engines, social media platforms and other websites. Among all methods, media buying is one of the most common channels adopted by marketers in the past decades in publishing ads on different platforms like online magazines or social media platforms. The process of media buying can now be done in two ways, manually and automatically, which is commonly known as direct media buying and programmatic buying respectively.

What is Media Buying?

Direct media buying is a rather traditional method for advertisers to negotiate deals with publishers and media owners in putting up their ads on their platforms. Marketers would have to contact the sales department of different media companies to gather information on placing ads and would usually receive a rate card in return. Within the rate card, the media company would provide the pricing and specs for each kind of advertising plan and product, including banner ads, video ads, advertorial and more. As the marketer received the information, the details will be discussed with the clients in making a decision on which media platforms and adopting which ad format. Usually, the whole buying process would most likely involve direct contact between the marketer and media company via traditional methods like phone calls or email.

What is Programmatic Buying?

As for programmatic buying, it is a more advanced version of media buying, which all happen automatically with real-time bidding (RTB) involved, the ad slots will be given to the advertiser with the highest bid. To facilitate the buying procedures, some digital tech platforms are involved, namely demand-side platform (DSP) and supply-side platform (SSP).

For DSP, advertisers can make bids by setting the maximum amount they are willing to pay for an ad slot, then the system will help to make bids and buy ad slots from multiple publishers in real-time. Utilising the DSP can help save a lot of time that would have been used for negotiation with different media companies and also making sure you will not overspend based on the threshold you set on the maximum price you are willing to bid.

For SSP, it is a tool used by publishers to manage the bids they receive and to sell the ad slots they possess on their media. Publishers are also able to set the minimum price for each slot so that the system can screen out invalid bids and sells the ad slots to the max bid.

Which is Better?

Among the two media buying methods, programmatic buying outshines direct media buying in terms of efficiency and convenience. For traditional direct media buying, marketers would have to plan and review the background and readership of each media platform, then they will have to contact those media companies and publishers one by one to negotiate a deal, which could ultimately take up a week time. Whereas for programmatic buying, the system will help you to pick the media platforms based on your target customer preferences and make bids automatically based on the price that you've set in advance. With all this being said, programmatic buying could save up a lot of time for you to spend on other important matters instead.

Yet, direct media buying does have some advantages when it comes to specific client requests or connections established between marketers and publishers. For some clients, they might emphasise more on the brand image or word-of-mouth of a certain publisher and therefore only want their ads to be placed on that specific media outlet, direct media buying would be a better option as you are only tasked to deal with one publisher. On the other hand, some experienced marketers might have some deeper connections with certain media companies and would often be able to land a cheaper deal for their ads. In this case, direct media buying is the best option such that you could directly talk to that media and negotiate for better terms and rates.


To sum up, both direct media buying and programmatic buying are still used by marketers very often, yet it is undeniable that programmatic buying is becoming the new norm due to its convenience and effectiveness. Ultimately, marketers should evaluate which method to adopt based on their client's needs and the goals to achieve for a certain campaign.

Want to learn more about media buying or needing help with media outreach? Leave us a message at and we will try our best to help.


bottom of page