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. Fried chicken roasting on an open fire

This week, KFC both launched and sold out of yule logs which, when burned, emitted the smell of their signature fried chicken recipe. Why should you care? KFC, along with other QSR chains like Popeyes and Taco Bell, deserve an A+ for their holiday activations. Through wrapping paper, “emotional support chicken,” hot sauce onesies and fragrant yule logs, they have adroitly found ways to productize cultural phenomena via their brand outside of fast food. Even better, all of these successful, albeit ridiculous products, also managed to instill some humor into a stressful season during a chaotic year. [Geek.com]

2. A better flight, brought to you by…alcohol

Smirnoff Seltzer and Stella Artois have both launched campaigns focused on the poor souls stuck in the middle seat for flights during the holiday travel season. Why should you care? This is an interesting idea: campaigns from one industry seeking to solve a customer problem in another completely different, and essentially unrelated, industry. The best brands solve their customer’s problems in ways that resonate with their customer. Uncomfortable travel is not the problem of either of these brands, but their customers sit in those seats, so both brands are offering to pay for upgrades from the middle seat. While unfortunate they launched the same campaign at the same time, both are likely to garner customer loyalty this holiday season. [Matador Network and Lonely Planet]

3. Speaking of airlines…

This holiday season, Eurowings sponsored an “ugly sweater” flight while Alaska Airlines is offering early boarding for passengers wearing ugly sweaters on holiday flights. Why should you care? Sure, it’s cute, fun, quirky and original. Yet, other brands are spending money to make flights a better experience for their customers (see story above). Airlines can certainly profit from other companies making their service better, but airlines aren’t going to reap the long-term benefits of goodwill fostered by these campaigns. Airlines would likely be better served by paying more attention to customer needs this holiday season rather than kitschy promotions. [The Points Guy and USA Today]

4. The darker side of the holidays

While the holidays can be a time of great joy and happiness, Virgin Trains has painted quotes from “It’s A Wonderful Life” on platforms along their Glasgow to London route to help those “struggling with mental health issues.” Why should you care? Most brands heartily embrace the joy of the holiday season, but that can be isolating for those who don’t share in that holiday spirit. Virgin partnered with Rethink Mental Illness, a UK charity, to design and execute this campaign. Though this may feel a little dark, it’s such a powerful idea to raise broad awareness for mental health, remind those glowing with Christmas cheer to have compassion for those who aren’t and to have a brand publicly speaking to those who may not relate to other cheery campaigns. [Lonely Planet]

5. Shopping in a winter wonderland

Walmart and Honda were among many who featured augmented and virtual reality as part of their holiday ads and customer experiences. Why should you care? Watching brands test different ways to serve their customers this holiday season made us feel like elves on retail shelves observing creative ways to implement AR and VR. While brands like Target used the technologies to visualize trees in home spaces like we’ve seen with furniture, Walmart and Honda used the technologies to create interactive winter scenes. Honda partnered with the Children’s Hospital of Orange County to offer personalized VR games for children who would be spending Christmas in the hospital. Walmart has also created winter landscapes (featuring Santa as well as notable brand mascots like Tony the Tiger) that shoppers can explore through AR while walking down different aisles. Whether practical, fun, heart-warming or all of the above, the holiday season has shown how brands are thinking about how these technologies fit into their everyday customer experiences. [Next Reality and The Drum]

Thank you for joining the Insights + Strategy team each week this year for the 5 in 5! We wish everyone a Happy Holidays and we’ll see you in 2019!

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