In the early days of the Internet, running ads was simply a matter of buying the space. These days, it's a great deal more complicated than that. Digital advertising is now almost entirely programmatic, defined by automation and real-time bidding.
Understandably, this shift goes hand in hand with considerable technical and logistical challenges — which is where ad ops comes into the picture.
Advertising operations — ad ops for short — is basically a catch-all term for the systems, processes, and technologies that support the sale, management, and execution of digital advertising, including but not limited to:
To understand ad ops, one must first understand the concept of programmatic buying. Basically, as the Internet continued to grow, it became increasingly infeasible for marketing professionals to handle ad placements entirely by hand. Instead, they began to rely on programmatic models that automated much of the work.
These models, however, were quite complex — a fact which led to the emergence of the first ad networks. From here, the industry continued to evolve, eventually introducing real-time bidding into the equation. Rather than simply purchasing ad space and letting their campaigns run, advertisers could now bid against one another on keywords, constantly vying for their ad to be the one that a customer sees.
Although real-time bidding is far from the only purchase model, it's nevertheless the dominant one, particularly where Google is concerned. Programmatic advertising, meanwhile, accounts for roughly 84.5 percent of all digital display ad purchases.
While some major content publishers employ their own advertising operations team in-house, many rely entirely on outsourced ad ops. This is to be expected. Digital ad ops tends to be a complex and technically-demanding field, so much so that the ad ops industry is worth roughly $106 billion.
But what exactly do advertising operations professionals do? The short answer is that they directly generate revenue by facilitating the sale and placement of ads. Other responsibilities may include:
First and foremost, a solid understanding of ad ops allows an advertiser to run more efficient ad campaigns. By understanding how ads are placed, priced, and managed on the operations side, you gain insight into where and how your brand should spend. Maintaining ongoing knowledge of ad ops also makes it easier to ensure compliance with industry standards, while also giving you and your team a window into emerging digital advertising trends.
Knowing what goes on 'under the hood' of an ad network essentially lets you leverage that network to its full potential, potentially granting yourself a considerable competitive advantage in the process.