Programmatic Vs. Display Network Ads: Which Is Better?

Programmatic Vs. Display Network Ads: Which Is Better?

Ashwin Krishnakumar
Ashwin Krishnakumar

Chief Technology Officer, Airtory

Published on: 10 Oct 2022

Reading time: 5 minutes

The digital marketing landscape is constantly evolving and new technologies and tools are being introduced year after year. While that does bring in new capabilities, tactics, and strategies that advertisers can use to boost their digital campaigns, it also means having to keep up with newer concepts that bring in new terminology as well.

When it comes to programmatic vs. display network advertising, both have a number of different strategies and terminology involved, which you should be aware of in order to understand what’s right for your business. Simply put, programmatic and display network advertising are two different aspects of display advertising. Programmatic advertising involves working on a specific strategy while publishing ads. Display ads, on the other hand, are all about using particular ad formats, which are published via different display ad networks. For creating an effective advertisement, it is important for advertisers to understand the difference between programmatic and display advertising concepts.

What is Display Advertising?

The first step to understanding display advertising, you should know what display ads are

Generally, the term ‘display ad’ is used to differentiate between image and video-based ads from text-based ones. Display ads can be defined as visual-based digital ads that may contain images, video, text, as well as audio. These ads come in different sizes and formats, including banners, videos, etc., and are served to online audiences via display ad networks. Display ads are shown to users when they browse websites where they have been placed. There are certain advantages of display ads such as better visual identity for brands, the ability to retarget core target audience, better brand awareness, etc.

What is Programmatic Advertising? 

Programmatic advertising is something that uses an automated process for buying ad space based on an algorithm and placing the most relevant ad. Advertisers take the help of algorithm-based technology to buy ad space in the fastest possible time at the best prices. There are several types of programmatic ad platforms involved in the process, including the demand-side and supply-side servers.

One of the major advantages of programmatic advertising is that the advertiser does not have to deal with pre-set pricing or go through negotiations, which results in improved efficiency.

Display Ads Vs. Programmatic Ads

While many people think that programmatic and display ads are two different types of advertising processes. They are actually two different facets of advertising and there is a huge difference between programmatic and display ads.

Now that you have a clear idea of what programmatic ads are, let’s have a look at how they are different from display ads, so you may choose which is better for your brand.

Which One Offers the Better Reach?

The ultimate aim of any advertising strategy is to gain as much user attention as possible. And, with display advertising, a brand can target a larger audience. For example, if you are using the Google Display Network (GDN) for your display ads, you can reach over 35 million websites and apps, including platforms like YouTube and Gmail. However, using a single closed network like GDN also means that you are limited to that network’s publishing partners.

With programmatic advertising, on the other hand, your ads are not limited to a particular platform on a display network. You can place them on platforms depending on the interest of your target audience.

Which One Wins the Targeting Game? 

Ad visibility to a large number of users is not a game changer, but showing it to the right ones definitely is. Programmatic advertising uses an approach of targeting based on a host of factors such as user location, demographics, online behavior, and retargeting. This means you are targeting a specific audience and having a precise targeting model definitely increases your chances of conversions.

Here, data management platforms or DMPs can also play an important role, enabling better targeting for digital campaigns. A DMP collates, organizes, and categorizes data from various sources, like websites, advertising campaigns, apps, etc., and uses the same to profile customers that allow advertisers to get deeper insights into their audience, in turn helping create more effective, data-driven campaigns.

Which One Supports a Unique Variety of Ad Types? 

Programmatic and display network advertising platforms both support major ad types, such as videos, images, HTML5, rich-media ads, etc. However, display ads will always look like ads, while programmatic, when used with native ad campaigns, seamlessly fit into the web page’s structure. This is also an effective way to battle banner blindness. Native advertising spaces can be bought programmatically to significantly improve campaign performance.

Programmatic and display network advertising platforms both support a wide variety of ad types, including video and interactive HTML5. However, while display ads look like ads, native programmatic ads do not. Native ads are designed to fit seamlessly into the design of the web page they appear on. For this reason, native advertising is an effective antidote against banner blindness, helping to boost customer engagement and brand awareness. When bought programmatically, native advertising can really supercharge performance marketing results.

Pricing Model Difference

Display ad networks generally have three types of pricing models:

  • Cost per click (CPC): The price is calculated on the basis of the number of clicks.
  • Cost per mile (CPM): The cost is calculated for every thousand impressions.
  • Cost per action (CPA): This price is calculated for specific actions.  

In programmatic advertising, the price is usually calculated using a CPM model, where other factors, such as ad formats, targeting options, etc., decide the final cost.


Display ads usually work on a CPC model, so the advertiser can end up paying a hefty sum if there is no predetermined budget for a campaign. Programmatic advertising, on the other hand, involves real-time bidding (RTB) and the cost is calculated on a CPM basis. However, it completely depends on the advertising goals when it comes to choosing a cost-effective option.


By taking the automated route, advertisers also get access to some in-depth information about their ads. This information includes where a particular ad is getting placed, detailed reports on how it is performing, etc. This transparency you get with programmatic advertising is something that makes it the more preferable choice among advertisers.

Both programmatic and display network advertising are essential components of any comprehensive digital marketing strategy. Advertisers may optimize their advertisements in real-time and continuously examine them. The only thing that an advertiser needs to understand is when, where, and how to use each to maximize their ROI and online advertising outcomes.

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