The Santa Claus Brand Evolution: How did he become an Icon?
Santa Claus is the envy of brand managers everywhere. His image is instantly recognizable across countries and cultures. We wondered…could Santa be the world’s strongest brand? We believe he is.
In cold months he is the world’s most sought-after spokesperson, selling everything from soft drinks to Hollywood films to electric shavers. His December calendar includes more appearances than Warren Buffet has made in his entire career.
Everyone knows what Santa looks like and stands for. All you need to see is his HAT. And that is a marketing triumph.
As brand strategists, we strive to have that kind of universal brand recognition, positive emotional connection and relentless consistency.
How did Santa get the red suit we all know and love?
Santa Claus’ global brand has come a long way since the third century when St. Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors and was depicted as everything from a tall gaunt man to a small cherub. The actual St. Nicolas was Turkish, but he evolved in Western culture to look like a European.
Santa, like all businesses, needed defining before his personal brand would capture the attention and love of consumers: consistency.
We can thank Coca Cola for that.
Santa as we know him came to life in 1931, when Coca Cola’s marketing masters put their stamp on his image. Crucially, Coca-Cola was the first major company to feature Santa dressed in a red suit. Before that, Santa Claus typically wore green, brown or white.
They hired American artist Haddon Sundblom to draw the friendly, plump and affable Santa we know and love today.
Sundblom’s depiction of Santa for Coke’s advertising campaign “Thirst Knows No Season.” was inspired by Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” It was designed to get people to drink Coke in the winter, was a huge success and ran for over 33 years.
Coca-Cola changed Santa’s fashion sense and his personal brand, forever.
They took an iconic figure and molded him to represent their brand — by promoting their own brand color. His body shape even resembles the shape of a Coke bottle. It remains one of the greatest marketing coups in history.
Examples of the “Thirst knows no season ad campaign. In these ads, they used a woman dressed as Santa.
Santa has been the spokesperson for many products, with a few shown here. I left out the dozens I found in cigarette and alcohol advertising. It seems Santa has sold a lot of products, and unlike the Geiko Gekko, he is not associated with a single product. In other words, nobody owns the Santa brand.
Today, the Santa Claus brand appears on everything from cookies to nail art to logos.
He has featured in over 2,000 movies. This weekend, 25,000+ New Yorkers will dress up in full head-to-toe Santa suits for SantaCon, a parade-slash-bar-crawl to raise money for the city’s food banks.
Santa also draws record numbers of consumers in the holiday months, helping to invigorate an economy that has been stuck in a slow-growth rut. “Santa’s real gift is to the economy,” says Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. This year, “Americans are shopping until they are tired. They are not shopping until they drop. But that’s okay. Santa is giving America a bump that it badly needs.”
The only thing we’d change about the Santa Claus brand is…
Get that man on social media! Santa doesn’t have a verified Twitter account or an official Facebook presence, and you won’t find him on LinkedIn. We think his Pinterest and Instagram pages could be particularly interesting, especially with images like these:
As you are building and nurturing your own brand, take some tips from the man in the red suit.
- Stand out.
- Be consistent.
- Tell a great story
- Always be visible to your target audience.
- Wear red.
This Christmas season, lead like the best Brand Ambassador in the biz: Santa Claus. Perhaps you might become the world’s strongest brand.