Is “Romcommerce” What’s Next for Product-Inspired Media?

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Ticket sales of romantic films sank during the pandemic. Fear not, love is in the air once again but, this time around, Cupid is an advertiser. Statista reports that in 2022 the total box office revenue of rom-coms in the U.S. and Canada was almost $105.38 million U.S. dollars. This might seem like a lot, but romantic films raked in over $800 million dollars in the mid-90s (Titanic alone brought in a cool $2.1 billion in 1997).

Compare the generations being targeted by Amazon’s approach to holiday advertising, versus Walmart’s. Amazon’s ad is geared towards millennials by marketing a feeling rather than merchandise. Amazon set the ad to the tune of a cover of the Beatles, which will appeal to Gen X and Boomers. The Silent Generation will see themselves represented in the three elderly protagonists of the Amazon series.

Romantic movie sales are still recovering, however, the untapped romance market is creating an opportunity for advertisers to hit customers smack dab in the feels with a new type of media that Walmart execs dubbed as “Romcommerce.” This growing media segment deserves further exploration now that companies like Walmart, Apple, and even Gucci are tapping into product-inspired media with romantic storylines.

Let’s look at how it’s happening, who is doing it right, and how other brands and retailers can follow suit.

Walmart Romances Consumers with “Add to Heart”

Walmart’s new 23-episode rom-com, “Add to Heart” starts out like any other holiday movie. Jazz plays as the camera pans over pine trees and local businesses, decked out in perfect ornaments and pristine snow. The series dares to go where every holiday film since the beginning of time has gone before: The series leads the protagonist back to her hometown Walmart where she rekindles her connection to an old flame. Fortunately, the formulaic nature of the series ends there.

Each of the two-and-a-half-minute, shoppable episodes highlights a selection of the over 330 products featured in the show. From flameless candles and pajama sets to charcuterie boards and lipstick, consumers can snatch up their favorite fits and sets from each episode with the click of a button. The short, digestible series was made with the thought that consumers would easily switch it on while doing their holiday gift-wrapping, cooking, or cleaning. The series is a calculated experiment by Walmart executives. Walmart coined the term “romcommerce” with the rollout of “Add to Heart” and the company is well positioned to be a frontrunner in the space.

Amazon’s Tackles Aging and Friendship with “Joy Is Shared”

Amazon’s holiday ad, “Joy is Shared,” on the other hand, takes an equally romantic approach with a different bent. In “Joy is Shared,” three lifelong friends sled together in their winter years. Their laughter and playfulness on the slopes bring them back to the memories of sledding together in their youth. The 30 and 60-second videos will run on television and cinema, streaming and online video, and social media through the end of December.

Compare the generations being targeted by Amazon’s approach to holiday advertising, versus Walmart’s. Amazon’s ad is geared towards millennials by marketing a feeling rather than merchandise. Amazon set the ad to the tune of a cover of the Beatles, which will appeal to Gen X and Boomers. The Silent Generation will see themselves represented in the three elderly protagonists of the Amazon series.

Walmart, on the other hand, is directly targeting Gen Zs with product-inspired, shoppable media. Gen Z still doesn’t have the purchasing power of their predecessors. However, Gen Z influenced over one-third of family purchases in 2019 and that number will continue to grow as they move towards financial independence. Thus, Walmart’s “Add to Heart” shows the generational behemoth is aware of family holiday culture. Tech-savvy Gen Z usually plays the role of DJ and streaming service at family holiday events. By reaching next-gens through digital romcommerce, Walmart strategically positioned itself to reach the whole family during the ’23 holiday season.

Apple Targets Speech Accessibility with “The Lost Voice”  

Unlike romcommerce, which is driven by product-centric narratives, Apple took a different storytelling approach. Apple’s latest cinematic endeavor, “The Lost Voice,” is more than just a visual spectacle. In this hopeful fable about speech accessibility, Apple focuses on a message that goes beyond the tangible. The whimsical film unfolds like a children’s storybook, captivating audiences with its charming narrative.

“The Lost Voice” is in league with last year’s Apple film, “The Greatest,” which Forbes says “continues to win big” through its focus on accessibility. The films echo Apple’s commitment to making technology accessible to everyone by showcasing the transformative impact it can have on people’s lives. Apple isn’t doing generic storylines about enticing hometown men in flannel. Instead, the tech giant weaves a tale that tugs at the heartstrings, while advocating for a more inclusive future… through Apple products.

Romance Without Weird, Exclusionary Odes to Consumerism

The notion that every romantic moment begins with a specific product is nothing new. We’ve all seen products presented as the sole conduit for romantic activity with ads like “every kiss begins with Kay” (because of course nobody on earth has ever gotten to first base without a diamond purchase).

However, in times of economic uncertainty, suggesting that a high-ticket gift purchase is the sole key to unlocking love can be a slippery slope. The ethically tenuous nature of the ad can serve as a siren song for angry consumers to band together in their appalledness and pull the brand under. As advertisers toe this tightrope, the delicate balance between romance and commerce remains a challenge.

In this ever-evolving narrative of “Romcommerce,” one thing is clear—the heart of the matter lies in the delicate dance between storytelling, emotional connection, and the products that bind them together. Now that Cupid dons the hat of an advertiser, the next chapter of product-inspired media is unfolding. Brands that embark on this journey should start with authenticity, keeping ethical considerations at the forefront.

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