The Santa Brand.

Remember at this seasonal time, that Santa Claus was invented by Coca Cola.

The perception we have of the jolly, rotund fellow in a red suit – the Santa ‘brand’ – is effectively Coke’s.

From 1931 to 1964 the artist Haddon Sundblom shaped the image of Santa that we know and love by illustrating him in various festive scenes, clasping a bottle of Coke for his troubles. The red suit, the belt and buckle, the shiny black boots, the rosy cheeks, the white beard – it’s all the result of Coke advertising and its widespread circulation within the magazines of the day. Bummer huh? Well, maybe.

Prior to Coca Cola’s adoption and re-creation of the jolly, fat gift-giver, there were numerous, fragmented views of Santa Clause around the world. Some depicted him as a wild Norseman a bit like the ‘Thor God of Thunder’ Marvel comic character. Other characterisations would have us believe that he was more of a wood-cutter/native/pagan-type. If you look really hard, you’ll find Santa as an elf dressed in green robes (not red) with Mr Spock pointy ears and everything.

Whilst there are still many variations on the Santa theme today – for example, we still can’t seem to even agree on his name (Santa… Santa Claus… Saint Nicolas… Father Christmas…) – the jolly red cherub is predominantly the unified perception. That unification was achieved with a brand. The Coke brand. It’s taken almost 80 years, but hey, who’s counting?

Santa – a brand that creates an emotive response and engenders warmth, happiness, and goodwill to all men.

This is not a criticism of Coke or commercialism by the way – the very opposite in fact. It’s really quite an achievement. Taking an already established brand – Santa – and reinventing him to become the widely accepted norm around the world is no small feat and is worthy of recognition.

When you consider the outcome as a brand strategy – it is almost exclusively positive. The Santa brand is an icon throughout the western world. It is recognised by all audience segments across all socio-economic demographics, rich and poor, old and young, black and white. It is instantly associated with giving (not taking). By association, it triggers fond memories of the past and offers hope for the future through your kids. There is no competition. The Easter Bunny doesn’t come close.

Now hold your own business brand up to the mirror and compare and contrast it to the Santa brand. If it doesn’t appear quite as sparkly and festive by comparison, you wouldn’t be alone. So how good are you feeling about your brand strategy now? It’s perhaps understandable that  you don’t have such a high achieving brand considering the length of time that Coca Cola has had to develop the Santa brand – an awful lot can be achieved in around a century after all and it’s perhaps unfair to draw the comparison. Or is it?

Here’s the thing. Take your existing brand strategy, take the path your brand has followed for the last few years, take the path it’s on now and project that path forward a few years. What the hell, live a little and project it forward 100 years. Now ask yourself the question, ‘Will the brand strategy for our business achieve even a fraction of the success and positive brand attributes associated to the Santa brand?’ If the answer is, ‘Oh…’, or, ‘Oops…’, or, ‘Mmmm…’, or, ‘Fek…’ you need to change the plan, change the brand strategy. You could always try hanging up your stocking and making a wish on Christmas Eve. Alternatively, you know where to find me. Christmas wishes to you all…

Scot McKee