A Turkish bishop, venerated across Europe for his benevolence and repackaged centuries later by an American poet and cartoonist, became the world’s most popular brand ambassador. This is the Christmas cheer we’ve sold in a million books, films, plays, songs, jingles, and ads. Santa Claus is the epitome of brand recall across ages, classes, races, and nationalities.
It has touched every category but has not been touched by the weight of its permanent shadows. This is the man who, with the same passion, is deeply committed to all kinds of brands, from cigarettes to milk and exercise to spirits – and has never been out of business. He was already selling chocolates and cold drinks during the Great Depression. And once and for all, Coca-Cola had nothing to do with inventing the modern grandfather with the sparkling eyes in festive red.
Inspired by Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas (1823), Thomas Nast painted the first contemporary picture of Saint Nicholas for Harper’s Weekly (1863). In the picture, Santa Claus comes with a sleigh to a Union army camp to distribute gifts. The first recorded advertisement was made by White Rock Waters in the December 19, 1915 issue of the San Francisco Examiner. Coca-Cola’s first Santa Claus play came out more than a decade later in December 1931. And 90 years later, the fact that they stuck to the same images and made it almost synonymous with themselves is a trip worth a book of its own . That year, Coke hired Oscar-winning actress Taika Waititi to direct her Christmas commercial in which Santa Claus drives a truck to reunite a father and daughter for the holidays.
What makes Santa Claus the figurehead of a religion, so timeless and irresistible, and a global ambassador of all things in December?
Goodness is eternal
Humanity thrives on the universal belief that casual kind actions will triumph in the end. Even movies made in sassier, bad Santas culminate in keeping the spirit of Santa Claus alive. Even in the worst case scenario in 2020, we want to hold onto something that exudes goodness.
Santa Claus is therefore the promise of love that will never go out of style. Santa enjoys intergenerational loyalty, a dream even for the most famous brands of all. A strong message for brands to find new ways to connect generations if they want to remain relevant for decades and not just give in to short-term niche focus.
Beyond the methodology
In 1956, Santa Claus, the owner of the world’s most famous beard, was the only brand ambassador to proudly sell something he would never use: electric shavers. The ad was headlined, “Just one man this side of the North Pole who wouldn’t enjoy a Remington Rollectric.” Santa Claus was no longer a mascot that people saw in cartoons and ads. It had easily become a part of everyday life. There are a dozen Santa Claus training schools and venerated passes earn up to $ 250 an hour on Christmas Day through corporate and sporting events, private parties, and malls activations. (Some are even second-generation Santa Clauses, which makes it a profession that is full of emotional worth.)
The perfect story
For decades, Christmas has almost been synonymous with smoking. Murad, Camel, Philip Morris, Richmond, Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, and Raleigh shared Santa Claus to sell nicotine. If Colonel Sanders, the other white-bearded icon from America, had sold condoms, advertised cigars, encouraged drinking, and acted abusive conmen in movies, how many months do you think the audience would have accepted him as the face of a fast? Food chain haunted by high school and college kids? And yet that is the special charm of Santa Claus.