By Rasika Narang
SVP of Marketing, Viant

As the digital ad industry grapples with a series of existential questions regarding the future of data and targeting, it’s been hard not to think about what we’ve learned over the past 18 months:

What do the brands that have been most successful during the pandemic have in common? I’m thinking of Instacart and Amazon, and of course Walmart and Netflix.

The answer? They don’t chase individual web users around with ads based on their surfing habits or personal data. They target the members of the home.

Ironically, during a time when we debate whether the industry needs to find a replacement for third-party cookies, the most successful brands have leaned into the household, which has (re-)emerged as the core economic unit during the pandemic.

That focus stands out especially in light of the cookie alternatives that have been presented – such as hashed email addresses as identifiers or a return to contextual targeting. These options largely feel either too underdeveloped or suboptimal.

Yet the household offers a happy targeting middle ground that is right in front of us. Here are five reasons why household ad targeting is worthy of a renaissance:

1. The home is a mini-economy

Households have been a proven and viable marketing mechanism for decades, from the days of magazines, TV and direct mail to addressable TV ads and now streaming content. The average U.S. household spends $60,060 per year on consumer products, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, and a whopping 88% of purchase decisions are made or discussed at home, according to research conducted by the internet marketing firm PebblePost. Think of a household as a distinct economic unit.

2. Households serve as the ultimate cohort

As we search for targeting alternatives such as clusters of like-minded individuals, households serve as the ideal cohort; they possess unique attributes and are already fully formed (as in, brands don’t need to create “clusters” — humans have formed their own such units, as they have done literally for centuries). Indeed, the household nicely balances the need for deterministic data with the need to respect consumer privacy.

3. Households help brands manage messaging outputs, as well

With many devices and browsers limiting user signals, the identification of the household is becoming even more important in the digital ecosystem, as it allows for improved messaging management, using traditional metrics such as reach and frequency. This allows brands to create a better consumer experience, so that they’re not overwhelming potential customers with a barrage of ads, for example. At the same time, at the household level, it’s still possible to deliver sequential messaging to further the customer journey.

4. Household attribution works

While it’s broadly challenging to track individual consumer identities across multiple devices, platforms, and the open web, the household is well suited to do this. Brands can isolate a single home’s collection of device IDs and directly gauge when a member of a household takes an action on one device after seeing an ad on another – considering 88% of Americans use a second digital device while watching TV, according to Nielsen, this capability is critical. This ability to measure conversions across the household allows for accurate analysis of media spend, something that’s increasingly important for marketers who must prove that their efforts are having the desired effects.

5. Increasingly, Smart TVs are the center of the connected home

Connected TV has an 83% household penetration, according to eMarketer, and just like traditional television viewing, CTV viewing is a shared activity between the members of a household. That’s the case whether they’re roommates or a family. As CTV becomes more prominent, household targeting translates far better than web-based tactics like retargeting, given device sharing and the communal nature of TV watching. After many years of anticipation and hype, the home is finally becoming “The Connected Home” thanks in part to voice search devices like Alexa. Now brands can get what they’ve always dreamed about: the rich canvas of storytelling only possible on a TV screen, combined with multiple, connected digital touchpoints, allowing for precision, accountability and the beauty of storytelling.

In 2021 (and beyond), one-to-one marketing isn’t necessary anymore

For a while, the idea of reaching consumers on an individual level with personalized advertising was the dream — but for myriad reasons from privacy concerns to the end of cookies to the increasingly connected nature of our day-to-day, it’s no longer the ideal. Today, household targeting provides the right amount of relevance to allow brands to understand their customers, while also helping them understand what’s working while minimizing media waste. It’s a privacy-first, consumer-centric way to operate.

In order to reach the household, however, marketers need to be leveraging identifiers that offer scale and can also be effectively measured. For that reason, Viant has created a live, interactive dashboard that provides an unbiased look at the identifiers currently available in the programmatic bid stream. We invite you to take a look for yourself at the Viant Household ID, which allows marketers to target the household through the Adelphic software, and how it compares to the alternatives.