Top 8 Misused Terms in Digital Media

The-Makegood.com_LynnseySomebody recently uttered it at a meeting here and heads swung around – “spillage.”

The correct term for media weight that falls into adjacent markets, or outside where it was intended, is “spill.”  It was a minor transgression, but the digital media industry has this annoying tendency to add syllables to words, use the wrong terminology, or allow “meaning creep,” which is when something starts out with one meaning and adopts another.  Here are a few others the digital industry consistently screws up, and if there’s any we forgot, feel free to let us know in the comments section:

GRP/TRP – Gross Rating Points (GRPs) are the aggregate sum of ratings against a total audience.  When we start talking about a specific target, like Men 18-34 or Women 35-49, the ratings points against those specific demographic audiences are more properly referred to as Targeted Rating Points, or TRPs.  Here’s the problem – if you use the term “TRPs” in a client meeting, you get looks that are normally reserved for the annoying guy at Olive Garden who likes to call everybody out on their Italian pronunciation at order time.  We tend to use “GRPs” when we really mean “TRPs.”

“Mediums” and “Medias” – Unless we’re referring to groups of fortune-tellers, “mediums” isn’t a word that’s relevant to our business.  When we’re talking about a single vehicle for carrying a commercial message, “medium” should suffice.  The plural of that word is “media.”  “Mediums” is cringe-worthy enough, but not quite as bad as “medias,” which when uttered during presentations, can cause immediate facepalming.  Ann Landers would have recommended lashes with a wet noodle.  We’d not be as kind.

Programmatic/Real-Time Bidding – These two terms are very often used interchangeably, but refer to two completely different things.  “Programmatic” refers to an automated method for buying ad inventory.  “Real-Time Bidding” is a smaller subset of programmatic buying that uses real-time auctions as part of its process.  Remember the whole “All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares” thing from elementary school?  Same thing with programmatic and real-time bidding.  All RTB is programmatic, but programmatic can encompass methods of automated buying that don’t involve real-time auctions.

“Relevancy” – We were doing just fine with “relevance,” which is the preferred form of the word, but remember that annoying tendency I mentioned?  The one where the digital media industry adds additional letters and syllables to perfectly good words in order to sound more impressive?  “Relevancy” represents a slippery slope that could turn “Excellence” into “Excellency” and “Variance” into “Variancy” if left unchecked.

“Trading Desk” – Does anyone else remember when a Trading Desk referred to a proprietary application used to conduct business in the programmatic buying space?  We do.  And then, through the wonders of meaning creep, a Trading Desk became 1) a “center of excellence” within agencies that used the proprietary app to help clients, then 2) a bunch of programmatic media buyers sitting in a sandbox playing with Ad Networks and DSPs.  Somehow, the proprietary application completely vaporized.

DSP – Speaking of Ad Networks and DSPs, we’re acutely aware that the Display LUMAscape is confusing to most people, but that’s no excuse for allowing tech companies to migrate across entire buckets without altering their service offering.  Still, it’s happening.  Ad Networks don’t want to be ad networks anymore.  They would rather be Demand-Side Platforms.  And thus, the lines that used to separate Ad Networks from DSPs have blurred so much that now almost everybody in the Ad Network space claims to be a DSP.  Former ad networks talk about “proprietary technology” that gives them unique access to inventory that others can’t offer, or data that no one else has access to, and then suddenly they’re a DSP.  Remember that “meaning creep” thing I referred to earlier?  DSPs are ad networks if they don’t have a seat on the exchanges.

“Behavioral Targeting” – Part of this is the fault of a scale problem we have in programmatic buying, wherein so few people meet our ideal target criteria that we need to find people that behave like the people we’re targeting, just so we can have a program with any significant scale.  This lookalike method for gaining scale is so popular that it blurs the lines between behavioral targeting and all other kinds of targeting.  This has led to situations where almost all targeting seems to be behavioral in some way.  Strictly speaking, though, behavioral targeting is using a specific behavior to target ads, not to scale the size of an opportunity.

“Remnant Inventory” – When old school media types think of remnant inventory, they think of unsold ad space.  They might have worked on a direct response account where a company has a standing order with a magazine to take a page at a steep discount so that the publisher can get paid for the space if an advertiser pulls out, last-minute.  What’s interesting here is that remnant really doesn’t exist in the digital space.  Programmatic sources of inventory ensure publishers that they’ll always have an ad to serve, albeit a cheap one.  But there’s certainly no fear that ad space will go unsold.  In this way, it’s kind of silly to describe digital ad inventory as “remnant.”


Yes, some of what I’ve discussed above is nitpicky.  But if we’re not careful, terms can lose their meaning.  When that happens, miscommunications can occur between the agency, it’s vendor partners and even with clients.


Lynnsey Rijos is a media professional with considerable HCP, DTC, B2B and International advertising experience and has managed plans across various media channels that include Print, Digital, OOH and Point-of-Care. Lynnsey is an Associate Media Director at Underscore Marketing, a firm that creates and manages integrated marketing programs for health and wellness brands. Additionally, Lynnsey is a native New Yorker and received her BA from The City College of New York – See more at: