Should Marketers Ad Target Households Or Individuals?

Prior to launching a campaign, one of the biggest questions that marketers seek to answer today centers on whether it should target the household or an individual. Sometimes the consideration of a products or service purchase is made by multiple family members. For some, audience data ties to the household, so the household becomes that primary focus.

The focus now turns to the connection between the individuals and the home. For instance, a furniture retailer might see value in targeting the household. Or if the marketer knows that the mother in the family makes most of the buying decisions, they may choose to target that person instead.

But of course, insightful audience data and real-time targeting are two reasons that marketers are drawn to individual-level targeting. This is where most marketers see the promise of delivering the right message to the right individual at the right time.

The eMarketers Ad Targeting 2018 report reviews both sides. Citing additional data sources, the report analyzes how marketers look targeting ads to households and individuals and how they use both forms to cross-device target. It also includes a checklist of questions for vetting identity and ad targeting vendors to ensure their data is accurate and compatible.



The report cites February 2018 data from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Winterberry Group that found 52.3% of U.S. senior marketing professional said cross-devise audience recognition will command the most attention in 2018. Better reporting, measurement and attribution follows with 49%, artificial intelligence for insights at 40%, sophisticated analytics and modeling at 38%, blockchain technology at nearly 37%, data security and governance at nearly 34%, programmatic media buying at 29%, and linking online with offline data at nearly 28%.

Analysts at eMarketer suggest marketers need to consider identity graphs and data onboarding solutions when looking to target audiences. Without an understanding of how an audience maps to respective devices and channels, marketers cannot target or measure exposures for one individual. Managing messaging frequency, understanding reach and creating seamless customer experience can fail without an identity solution in place.

Targeting has become a more complex task. When it comes to ad targeting, per the report, marketers need to consider whether the product is a shared item -- for example, bath soap, paper towels, or a new home. The type of product or service being advertised may dictate whether a marketer leans more toward household- or individual-level targeting.

Consider also the campaign objective. While lower-funnel, direct-response marketers may focus heavily on one-to-one marketing channels and audiences, the report suggests that in some instances household-level data is useless -- especially when targeting via direct mail, connected TV or over-the-top (OTT) video.

The product type and campaign objectives are only two considerations. The others include available data and the path the consumer might take to make the purchase.

Perhaps marketers are considering targeting the household rather than the individual based on General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) or other privacy regulations coming to fruition in the United States.

Overall, it’s not an either or decision. The analysis of the data concludes that the focus on individual targeting isn’t going away, and the focus on household targeting will play a major role in the future.


In most cases, marketers will rely on a mix of both individual- and household-level audience data and ad targeting efforts. The household is often the central focus for items purchased by multiple members of a residence. The individual-level targeting will be kept more for real-time, precise ad targeting.

9 comments about "Should Marketers Ad Target Households Or Individuals?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 13, 2018 at 5:19 p.m.

    Laurie, the resaon this question is even being asked is because so many of the so-called new targeting measurements---such as "Big data" TV ratings or "addressable TV" can not determine who is being reached---only that the device was being used. So, working backwards, we elevate the concept of reaching "the household" to equal status with reaching a particular human target. Frankly, the whole debate is silly. Of course, you target the individual who you are trying to motivate. If it is both the man-of-the-house and Woman-of-the-house then target both. It's really all that simple. As many of our "advanced" systems can't tell us who is watching a TV commercial or video ad, we are willing to pretend that household audiences are OK, when they are, at best, poor indicators of consumer targeting. Why not address the real problem and find ways to discover exactly who is being reached. Then the "problem" is solved and we can move on to other issues such as figuring out if the ads were seen, frequency capping, cross platform comparisons, etc.

  2. Laurie Sullivan from lauriesullivan, August 13, 2018 at 5:23 p.m.

    Ed, you're awesome. Please never stop providing valuable insight. :)

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, August 14, 2018 at 5:58 p.m.

    Gosh, I remember that back in the day we used to have Household TV ratings - how sophisticated was that!

    Well the answer turned out to be - not very spohisticated.

    So people-based diaries, and then peoplemeters came to be the de facto standard starting in the late '80s/early '90s.

    I find it amusing that this discussion is re-surfacing and that the modern marketer is again asking the question.   The simple answer is that it depends on the brand, its usage and its purchaser - a fact that seems to have been lost over time in the headlong rush to granularity and speed of data irrespective of its meaning or relevance.

  4. Colin Williams from Comcast Spotlight replied, August 20, 2018 at 4:21 p.m.

    Just wait until integrated cameras from gaming consoles (i.e., Xbox, Playstation, etc) or from your actual TV can determine the presence of certain people (or several people) in the room based on their silhouette "persona" that they create when setting up the TV. My Xbox already knows when I enter the living room and reacts accordingly based on the camera recognizing my body. Only then, will they have the ability to dynamically serve the ads based on who is in the room at that time. Mom or dad by themselves? They get the individual-targeted ad. Both are watching together? They get an ad for wine, restaurants financial services, insurance or something catering to a couple. The whole family in the room? (imagine that!), you serve the ad that targets their interests as a whole (i.e., Disney World/theme parks, destination travel, cruises, tourism, entertainment, or whatever. It's coming. Just watch. 

  5. John Grono from GAP Research replied, August 20, 2018 at 5:54 p.m.

    Actually that has already been done.   And back in the '90s.   It was pretty accurate but very slow.

    But the reaction from the participants was along the lines of ... "No way, get that out of my house."   And that was from people who had given specific consent for the trial.

    The conclusion was "just because you can - doesn't mean you should" and the project was shelved.   I also think that the general public would be naive if they think that the tech behemoths aren't already doing it by stealth.

    One person's advertising heaven is another person's privacy nightmare.

  6. Colin Williams from Comcast Spotlight, August 21, 2018 at 11:34 a.m.

    John Grono, that's interesting. I was unaware. As for the privacy thing; I agree. And in 2018, privacy is merely a myth perpetuated by those who promise to protect it...for a cost. Permission-based is where its going IMO.  

  7. SANDRO CAMARAO from BrightLine, August 28, 2018 at 8:54 a.m.

    Household targeting is still an invaluable targeting strategy unifying the offline/online world and exposing influencers of your main target.  Its a lot more sophisticated than in  the past.  Tying together devices and person identities under a household.  Where you may have indexed shows to target audiences based on poor sample based panels, now there is more of a census knowledge of  individual householda.  And make no mistake that individual targeting is a reality on devices like desktop and tablets.  Devices that are shared amongst household members.  Mobile devices are very individual and registration based site like Facebook and Google are very individualistic.  But for the great majority, the illusion of cross device person identity in getting deduplicated reach is still a myth unless you have a camera verifying the user.

    Household targeting is very viable and reduces a huge amount of waste.  Household targeting in digital allow marketers to tie and compare offline and online under the same budget.  Until the world becomes more Orwellian, there will be household based targeting for TV and offline marketing efforts.  Providing marketers a unified, deduplicated view of those households online and offline, will greatly empower their strategies and reduce waste.  Not to mention that household members are great influencers on your main target.  Especially in above the line, branding efforts. 

  8. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 28, 2018 at 10:13 a.m.

    Sandro, while it is true that with digital media you can usually identify who is the main user of that device in the case of linear TV there are 2.5 persons per home but at any given point when a set is tuned in only 1.2 are watching. As a result, you don't have even a reasonably close fix on who in the household is being "reached" by a TV commercial using device usage as an audience measurement metric.

  9. Mike Skladony from Semcasting, Inc., October 4, 2018 at 1:27 p.m.

    "the report suggests that in some instances household-level data is useless -- especially when targeting via direct mail, connected TV or over-the-top (OTT) video." <---I disagree with this. When all is said and done, what is the key deciding factor for the purchasing decision of most products and services? Can I afford it or can't I afford it. Offline deterministic data linked to households is one of the best solutions for solving this. The digital world is one giant window shopping experience...if you can prequalify by household first and behavior secondary, it reduces a tremendous amount of waste...but it starts with the household. 

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