Ad network vs Ad exchange

Here we will explain the main differences between Adtech formats.

It has been common to watch online endless debates regarding Ad network vs Ad exchange, considering how many people feel confused with both of them.

Basically, Ad exchanges and Ad networks are two different elements of the same programmatic advertising world. While both are used by publishers and advertisers, it is a mistake to confuse them within the media buying ecosystem. 

Ad network vs Ad exchange: What they really are

While you can find some differences and similarities in the Ad exchange vs Ad network debate, the truth is that both of them have their own importance in the Adtech world.

On the one hand, an Ad network is an aggregator whose mission is to collect ad inventory from publishers and then sell it to every advertiser. Basically, we’re talking about an intermediary that will always try to benefit both parties equally.

About its evolution, we can say that the Ad network was some kind of Deus Ex Machina that brought order to the mayhem that was taking place in the 90s and early 2000s when the digital advertising industry experienced an enormous growth. In this period, advertisers and publishers were having a difficult time buying and selling ad inventories. A problematic reality that the Ad network solved for good by routing transactions through both parties.

On the other hand, an Ad exchange is a digital marketplace where every publisher and advertiser can buy and sell different types of ad inventories in a direct manner. Nevertheless, an Ad exchange will never act as an intermediary.

When talking about its evolution, we can say that it appeared right after the Ad network in order to fix one of its initial flaws: the fact that many publishers were left with unsold inventory that they were going to sell at a low price.

At that point, the emergence of this digital platform allowed every single publisher in the market to sell the remaining inventory to all advertisers. This situation was quite beneficial to advertisers and agencies since they were now able to buy ads per impression with greater targeting abilities through the so-called RTB or real-time bidding.

Ad exchange vs Ad network: The way they operate

Another interesting element in the Ad exchange vs Ad network debate is that many people usually misinterpret the way both of them operate. After all, there are some points that could make it a little bit confusing.

To make it simple, we can say that an Ad network is typically an organization that usually aggregates and even curates the ad inventories of all publishers. After that, the Ad network sells them to the advertiser.

What an Ad network does, is act as some kind of legwork for all advertisers, by segregating an ad inventory on criteria such as ages, context, demography, and even behavioral elements.

On its part, the Ad exchange operates as a digital platform that allows all agencies and advertisers to be part of the transaction. Over the last few years, the Ad exchange has allowed other parties to participate, including supply-side platforms, publishers, and even demand-side platforms.

What everyone praises about the Ad exchange, is the fact that the media buying process is completely transparent. After all, the parties involved in the digital platform sell the ad impressions in real-time using sophisticated software applications that prevent any sort of shady operation.

In Conclusion, in order to establish the real difference in the Ad network vs Ad exchange debate, we can say that the first one acts like a stockbroker in the stock market, helping publishers to get the right stock. Meanwhile, the second one will operate like the stock exchange itself, giving the opportunity to make all types of transactions in some kind of open market.