Media Buying: What is it and How it Works

August 18, 2022
7 minute read


How many ads would you estimate you see or hear on a daily basis?

Your eyes might pop at this figure, but research shows that the average American is exposed to 10,000 ads every day!

Whether it’s a live TV stream, a radio show, or even a good, old fashioned billboard, we face a bombardment of ads and promotions whichever way we turn. But have you ever stopped and wondered where all this attention grabbing media originates? Who strategized the concept behind that ad? And how did the idea become a reality?

Ready to take a deep dive into digital media buying? By the time you’re finished reading this, you’ll be able to explain exactly what media buying is and how it works.


What is media buying in marketing?

Media buying is the process of purchasing ad space, whether on an online platform or on a more traditional space like print ads in a newspaper. Media buying can also be defined as the art of gaining the most publicity for the lowest prices.

Using a real-to-life scenario, we’ll dissect the media buying process:

Men’s Alley is a fictitious men’s clothing company, specializing in designer, high-end ties. They are about to receive a new delivery of highly fashionable ties and want to gain as many customers as possible. To achieve this, they need to advertise.

Sometimes, Men’s Alley advertises through the local fashion magazine, but since the goal here is to gain a serious amount of publicity, Men’s Alley’s sales rep is going to enlist the help of a media buying agency.

This is a worthwhile step as a good media buying agency has existing relationships with media owners which can be used to land the best deals for clients. Well-established media buying agencies are also experts at finding the optimal advertising channel for their client’s particular needs.


Media planning

The next stage involves a media planner. Media planners often work within media buying agencies, but there are plenty of specific media planning agencies out there too. In their role, the media planner will:

  • Work with Men’s Alley to determine their advertising goals and budget.
  • Define the target audience, in this case, young-middle aged, upper class males.
  • Research the target audience’s media habits. This can include: web browsing, social media presence, most visited TV channels, and most listened to radio channels.
  • Research competition: where do Men’s Alley’s competitors advertise and what makes their advertising successful?
  • Based on the above two points, the media planner will decide on the most effective platform for the tie ad. In this example, let’s imagine that the media planner decides on a Thursday night TV show after discovering that young–middle aged, upper class males are the main audience of this show.
  • Develop an ad strategy–how should the ad be presented so that it makes the greatest and most favorable impression?


The Media Buyer

At this point, the media planner has done their job and a media buyer takes over. We’ll get into the technical nitty gritty in another section, but for starters, allow Men’s Alley’s media buyer to walk you through the basic process of actual media buying.  Here, we have an overview of what the media buyer’s job will entail in this scenario:

  • Negotiating the price of the ad placement either directly with the TV broadcasters or with media buying platforms.
  • Using their experience and research to arrange that the advert be shown at a specific, most effective time.
  • Leveraging their relationships with media buying platforms to negotiate value add-ons. This could mean extra ad space or impressions without charge. 
  • Being aware of ad fraud and only buying media from reputable platforms. In this case, ad fraud could mean a fraudulent media buying platform stacking multiple ads on top of each other, so that only the top one is actually displayed. This will mean TV watchers will never see the Men’s Alley ad.
  • Ensuring brand safety: to stay in consumers ‘good books’, brands need to protect themselves against being advertised in inappropriate places. If, for example, Men’s Alley’s ad is carelessly displayed within a crude movie featuring teenage hooligans, their upper class brand messaging will be sabotaged.
  • Creating a contract in writing in case the people/platform involved in the media buying process lose documentation or attempt to back out of an agreement.
  • Tracking the success of the ad via KPI’s (key performance indicators) and/or media analytics. The following would not be so relevant in this case, but it’s worth knowing that media buyers can also sometimes optimize ads mid-campaign, e.g by shifting media to where they’re seeing the best results. 


Whew, that was a hefty dose of media buying information to digest in a few minutes!

Still have questions?

Our deep dive into media buying is just about to get a little deeper, but have no fear…the questions and answers below will make things a whole lot clearer. 

Let’s begin with clarifying the following: 


What is a media buying platform?

A media buying platform is a tool that facilitates digital media buying. For example, media buying companies can buy facebook ads through a media buying platform. A company such as Men’s Alley would not necessarily have to go through a media buying agency to buy facebook ads (or any other form of media), they could theoretically skip this stage and go directly to a media buying platform. However, a lot of companies do choose to use a media planning and buying agency, as they require their expertise to help them navigate their advertising wisely.

Some of the top media buying platforms out there are:

If you went ahead and checked out some of those media buying platforms, you probably noticed the following terms coming up again and again: 'programmatic media’, ‘demand side platforms’, ‘supply side platforms’, ‘real time bidding/RTB’, and ‘direct buys’.

To get a grip on what this all means, we’ll answer the following question:


What are the types of media buying?

Programmatic media buying:

Programmatic media buying employs advanced technology to automate the media buying process. A programmatic buy is accomplished through real-time bidding, using an automated bidding system. Programmatic media buying platforms use technology to find the optimal time to display an ad, as well as the optimal audience to display it to. 

Demand-side platforms and supply-side platforms:

Demand-side platforms and supply-side platforms work hand in hand with the programmatic ad buying process. Simply put, SSPs enable publishers (most publishers are website owners in this context) to sell their available ad space to DSPs. In turn, advertisers use DSPs to buy ad inventory from publishers. In effect, to buy ad space from a publisher is to buy social traffic.

Direct Buying:

In contrast with the automated system of programmatic media buying, direct buying refers to the more traditional method of ad buying. This involves a lot of human involvement to manually find the right publisher, negotiate prices and buy ad space directly from the publisher.


Media buying success stories

So! Now that we’ve been through media buying 101, let’s analyze some media buying success stories.

Which companies have been super successful through media buying? As you read through some of these fabulously successful campaigns, achieved through media buying, ask yourself:

What did they do to get it right? 

  • ASUS–Smartphone Company

ASUS, an Indian smartphone brand held barely 0.3% of the Indian smartphone market share and needed a campaign to revive their brand. 

Using programmatic ads, they targeted their audience’s online shopping carts on Flipkart. They used customer segmentation to group customers into categories, such as price range and buying habits and continuously created multiple ads to target different segments. If, for example, a user added a phone with a 3500 mAh battery, ASUS would target them with an ad for a phone with a 5000 mAh battery at an even lower price.

The result?

ASUS increased the efficiency of their ads by three times, multiplied their market share ten fold and reached their goal of selling a million units!

  • Shelter–Charity for The Homeless

In 2019, Shelter urgently needed charitable donations for emergency housing to help the homeless through the cold winter months.

Shelter strategically bought advertising space on sites relating to charity and homelessness to display their video ads.

With efficient media buying, they were able to buy impressions at a lower-than-expected rate, gaining 15% more impressions at no cost. Their main success, however, was an increase in viewability rates by 70%!

  • AirAsia-Airline Company

During a difficult financial year, AirAsia used CRM data to create a programmatic campaign on Facebook.

They segmented potential customers into three groups:


  1. Previous ticket buyers who had stopped buying tickets since the 2014 crash.
  2. Those who had bought tickets after the crash.
  3. Regular customers who championed the brand.

These groups were targeted with display and video ads on Facebook in the following ways:

  • Those who had recently been on AirAsia’s website but had not bought a ticket were given information about the routes they had been searching.
  • Recent ticket buyers were shown ads with reasonable rates for routes they had previously flown on and directed to the AirAsia site.
  • The most regular and valuable customers were shown brand adverts and videos.

According to Facebook’s case study, the impressive results showed that AirAsia’s campaign generated an ROI of thirty times!


Key takeaways

Media buying is an intricate industry that, when leveraged correctly, can bring about great brand success.

There are several main factors to keep in mind:

  • Your goals: What do you aim to achieve by buying media? The answer will help decide which media buying agency to work with. Perhaps your goal is very small, in which case you won’t go through an agency at all.
  • The media buying agency you use: It’s important to do careful research into an agency before deciding to work with them. Have they been successful in the past with campaigns like yours? Are they honest and reputable?
  • Tactics: Careful strategy is key in successful media buying, as is pinpointing your target audience. Give the right message, to the right people, at the right time, and you're well on your way to meeting your goals.
  • Know the results: Before launching a campaign, it is imperative to set KPIs to track success once a campaign has been launched. This will help in decision-making about future campaigns.


One final, important point: Due to its complex and involved nature, media buying can take a lot of trial and error. Using project management software is extremely useful in smoothing the path to media buying and can automate a lot of the complex processes involved.

Workamajig’s project management software is designed to help you sail through the media buying process. Companies that use Workamajig’s media buying tools know they can also relax about the financial aspect–we deal with that too, easy peasy.

Workamajig integrates seamlessly with Strata–a media buying platform, as well as media buying payment solutions–CSI and FastPay, to help you buy media, sans any sweating or fretting.

The Strata Link tool allows you to easily import broadcast, print orders and invoices from the Strata media buying system into Workamajig.


Workamajig integrates with FastPay and CSI. These two fabulous media buying payment solutions integrate with the industry–specific systems you use to fully support your media buying accounts .

Workamajig wants to see you reveling in media buying success!

Find out how Workamajig can help you get it right the first time.

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