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. Brevity is the soul of wit

On Monday, The Times-Picayune’s front page coverage of Super Bowl LIII was a full page featuring only the words “Super Bowl? What Super Bowl?” Why should you care? Studies have shown that Americans feel the need to stay informed, but doing so is stressful. While we’ve seen layoffs in different news outlets these past couple of weeks, we are also seeing growth in outlets that are humorous and real with their audiences. While you can’t quite call this effective coverage, we like it because they found an amusing way to report a story that resonated with their audience. The Times-Picayune didn’t bend the truth nor misrepresent what happened. Instead, they cleverly used sarcasm to voice the frustrations of New Orleans and rise above the controversy through implied indifference (and one heck of a party). [USA Today]

2. Gaming to gigs

Last Saturday, Fortnite hosted a live, virtual Marshmello concert inside the game. Why should you care? First, if Fortnite or the term “ESports” are unfamiliar, it would be a good time to Google all of those, because both are cultural phenomena brands need to be monitoring. Fortnite currently has 200 million players worldwide. Ten million players were “present” for the concert on Saturday. Sure, a concert inside a video game feels like it came straight from sci-fi or Ready Player One, but brands should take this seriously. Fortnite and Marshmello sure did by treating it like a physical event down to the little details. Throughout the week, players in Fortnite who passed the concert venue in the game saw the stage being built. Marshmello included the location in Fortnite as an official tour stop. According to Wired, this is the future, “It was a peek, albeit a short one, at what an AR- and VR-suffused future looks like: connected congregations of embodied avatars, in mass-scale events that still manage to feel personal.” [Wired]

3. Lite literacy while tying up laces

Clarks in the UK has launched a new initiative where they will train employees to speak with children while trying on shoes in ways that will improve the children’s literacy. Why should you care? This is (unfortunately) a good example of a well-intended initiative that seems short-sighted for the 2019 consumer. Consumers want brands to solve social problems, so Clarks was right to look to use their power to make a difference. However, people want brands to make a difference in areas where they are authentically leaders who can use their industry knowledge and influence to solve a problem. Clarks is already receiving criticism in the UK for the inherent limitations to their program such as staff interactions being too limited to make a difference, expensive products making it unlikely to draw the “disadvantaged families” they want to help into their stores and questioning why a shoe company would be well-suited to tackle illiteracy. We expect people will demand more from brands in 2019 and push the brand’s comfort zone, particularly around social issues. Consumers will reward brands who authentically and organically support social issues where they can lend their expertise. However, even brands doing good things, but doing so with causes that aren’t aligned with their values will likely draw criticism from consumers who will be skeptical of the brand’s intentions. [The Guardian]

4. Tech is a: (A) dystopian nightmare, (B) miracle or (C) who even knows anymore

Ads during the Super Bowl for TurboTax, Michelob Ultra, Pringles, Amazon, Google and Microsoft featured contrasting views of technology showing the limitations of AI and voice assistants versus the possibilities of technology in helping people. Why should you care? This was illuminating glimpse into the existential crisis unfolding around the role of technology in our lives. People recognize that many technologies have dramatically improved their lives and studies support this. At the same time, big tech companies have lost consumer trust through data breaches, privacy violations, and other studies illustrating the negative impact of their products in our lives. People are left with no clear direction on what they should do and captivating Hollywood depictions of robots destroying humanity. Technology is not going away, but the fear and confusion can. Brands should help consumers in 2019 by not forcing them into one extreme viewpoint or another. This can be accomplished by continuing to create/add functions, products and services that enable people to balance digital and analog experiences in their lives. [Axios]

5. Mile-high matchmaking mishap

This week, some customers flying on Delta received Diet Coke branded napkins encouraging them to give their name and number to their “plane crush”. Why should you care? This will be year where people ask brands to be more honest and real. On the surface, the playful language on these napkins speaks to both people seeking out more personal connection as they use social media more intentionally and connects with recent pop culture stories about people meeting on planes. However, in this case, being honest and real didn’t play out as they’d hoped. With recent coverage on rising sexual assault/harassment on planes and the #metoo movement prompting a more considered approach to unsolicited attention, maybe this should have been flagged sooner as something likely to draw criticism. While important, that’s not what makes this example notable. This year, brands will need to take some calculated risks, whether with tonality or taking a stance on social issues, to resonate with their customers. It will require an increased risk tolerance and brands will need to make peace with having a misstep here or there while they navigate a novel, even uncomfortable, place where remaining neutral or playing it safe won’t cut it anymore. [CNN]

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