Each week, Padilla’s Insights + Strategy team stands at the intersection of people, culture and brands to bring you five stories that you can read in five minutes.

1. AI vs. BO

Unilever, partnered with electronics firm PragmatICs and the University of Manchester, are studying how AI might be used to alert people when they have body odor.  Why should you care? Discussions around AI and machine learning so often focus on tackling big picture problems. However, technologies have the most impact when they expertly solve problems, especially the smallest ones that feature in the average person’s daily life. Whether designing a new product or launching it, starting with the problem it solves and a keen understanding of why consumers care about it is always the best place to start. By starting with the consumer’s problem of not knowing if it is time to reapply deodorant, Unilever will likely draw in customers by solving the detection problem (and offering a complementary solution) rather than leading with just another deodorant. [Futurism]

2. When a survey hands an airline lemons…

After a study illustrated that their target market in Germany thought they were a bank, radio station or restaurant, KLM (the national Dutch airline) set up three activations based on the misconceptions. Why should you care? This is a clever way to build brand awareness by meeting people where they are. Rather than dispel the misconceptions directly, they created activations based on what people thought KLM was (a bank, radio station or restaurant) to draw in new customers. These platforms used their guise to introduce people to KLM in fun ways based on the site, such as serving them food they would find on KLM flights for free in their “restaurant”. [AdAge]

3. Steamy stories of product placement

Wendy’s, KFC and New York Bakery Co. have all recently released romance novels with plots that feature their brands and products. Why should you care? As big data continues to change the way we understand consumer interests and preferences, brands are taking more opportunities to make incredibly curated content for very niche audiences. Wendy’s, for example, launched a romance novel featuring a love triangle between a man, a woman and Wendy’s Berry Cherry Iced Tea on a website called Wattpad where writers can share original stories. While there will always be a need for overarching campaigns, brands should also consider how they might cater content to the niche tribes who would be interested in hearing from them. [Cassandra Daily]

4. Looking beyond nostalgia on main street

Philanthropists and national chains, like Walmart, are beginning to invest in declining small towns with the intention of “reinventing Main Street”. Why should you care?  Delivery services and online shopping seemed to be pushing physical stores into obsolescence until Amazon opened its own physical store. While the adoption of delivery services by Walmart and Target affirm that an integrated digital platform is critical, it has not eliminated physical stores. Even so, is there still a place for “main streets” in modern commerce outside of nostalgia or charity? This trend, outlined in the New York Times, and its cultural implications will be interesting to watch because online services and big box stores haven’t been able to replace the sense of community associated with “Main Street” or the personal connections forged there. Our hunch is the national brands that can leverage their distribution networks in ways that can also serve these existential needs of communities will be unstoppable. [New York Times]

5. Crocs courting “cool teens”

Crocs, the notoriously ugly orthopedic shoe brand, are collaborating with celebrities like Post Malone to target teens. Why should you care? Fads in recent years around “ugliness” in fashion have worked to their advantage. However, Crocs has identified that eventually the “kookiness” and its use on runways and in high fashion, to be shocking and provocative, would make them susceptible to unpredictability of fads. To ensure their sales wouldn’t end with a fad, they are strategically targeting Gen Z and designing products to meet their needs. For the collaboration with Post Malone, they are targeting “the hypebeast-adjacent Gen Z’er who stores his Crocs next to his Yeezys”. To encourage self-expression, their spring collection “features a bright, bold color palette, positive messaging, oversized logos and trend-right platform silhouettes.” This approach is smart because of its targeted marketing approach to groups within a generation and a long-term outlook in future-proofing their business.  [Vox]

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