No matter what religious affiliation you may have, every person in America has a distinct image for Santa engrained in his or her brain. Santa’s image is likely a heavy-set bearded fellow jovially sporting a large red and white outfit. How many Americans ask themselves where this image came from? Well, whether we like it or not, our contemporary American Santa is the product of Coca-Cola advertising.
It all began in the 1930’s with Coca-Cola’s “Thirst Knows No Season” campaign where the company commissioned American artist Haddon Sundblom to paint advertisements for holiday Coca-Cola promotions. Sundblom’s advertisements were inspired by Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” also known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Moore’s description of Santa was a man who was friendly, plump, and affable.
Where the clever branding comes in to play is in the color palette selected for Santa’s attire. Is it a coincidence that good ol’ St. Nick is dressed from head to toe in Coca-Cola’s trademark red and white? We think not. Although Coca-Cola denies having intentionally designed contemporary Santa in their brand’s colors, it is obvious the color choice was not random, and undeniably intentional. Even down to the color of Santa’s belt, which matches the color of Coca-Cola soda.
Sundblom’s iconic Santa with Coke ads ran for 33 years, solidifying the red and white personification of Santa in people’s minds around the world. Sundblom’s Santa managed to stay fresh and relevant to the difficult times when the ads ran. During times of war and financial hardship, Coke’s Santa Claus was there to lighten the people’s holidays and be a friend.
Sundblom’s Santa is not the first case of Coke trying to create a relationship between Santa and Coca-Cola. They had some true failures in the 20’s with a not-so-pleasant looking Santa that failed to resonate with the public.
Sundblom’s Santa was the first design that immediately stole the hearts of the American public. This created a long-term association between Santa and Coke, which worked out to be brilliant on Coca-Cola’s part. Now, the standard Santa seen around the world reflects the Santa that loves Coke, and even matches the bottle.
So there you have it, the Santa you know and love comes to you courtesy of a Coca-Cola ad campaign. Regardless of how you may feel about that, you can’t deny that it was marketing genius on Coke’s part.