The illustrations of Santa for its brand promotion.

The most successful story which build a Brand!


History about Santa

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The legend of Santa can be traced back to St. Nicholas a 4th-century bishop in Patara near Myra (now in Turkey). He was admired for his piousness and kind-heartedness. The name Santa Claus came from Dutch settlers in the American city of New Amsterdam now known as New York. Who nicknamed St. Nicholas as Sinter Klass. From Sinter Klass came the modern-day name “Santa Claus”. The Modern-day Santa’s popularity began in 1822 by a person named Clement Clarke Moore. Clement wrote a poem titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or (commonly called “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) for his 3 daughters. Where he described Santa as a Jolly Old Elf.


In January 1863, a NewYork based magazine Harper’s Weekly published the first illustration of St Nicholas by Thomas Nast, which was inspired by Clarke’s poem. The illustration was captioned “Santa Claus in Camp”. After that Santa was seen in various different Avatars starting from Red waistcoat and yellow stockings, blue three-cornered hat, Stars and stripe outfits, huge Flemish trunk nose, to a tall haggard man and spooky-looking Elf. The colors over him also varied from Red, Green, blue, Tan to brown fur.


The Santa and Coca-Cola truth


The biggest myth and urban Legend is Coca-Cola designed the Santa’s red suit.


Which is not true.


History clearly records the modern-day Santa and stories around it, which existed much before the brand or product Coca-Cola came into existence. The Image of Santa had various avatars including the modern-day avatar till 1930. Coke defined and standardized the image, made him larger than life Jolly in a red suit which millions of people, young and old recognize him by.


The Brand Story

The Brand Coke started using Santa in its advertising as early as the 1920s, but the real brand story began in 1930 when Artist Fred Mizen painted a department store with Santa drinking Coke. This painting was used in Coke’s print ads during Christmas featuring world’s largest soda fountain located at the Barr Co. departmental store. The popularity was such Coke build its communication strategy around it.


In 1931 Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop illustrations of Santa for its brand promotion. The idea was to develop a real character and not a man dressed as Santa Claus. Sundblom referred Clement Clarke Moore and Thomas Nast but added the warm and friendly human image which people could relate to.  


Sundblom apart from the historic inspiration for Santa Clause used his Salesman friend Lou Prentiss as a live model to paint Santa Claus. He painted images of St. Nick as a jolly old fellow, with a white beard, pot belly, and black belt, targeting the emotional side of the consumers. He built stories which were familiar to scenarios with its consumers, bringing Santa into their active lives.


Sundblom painted Santa for 33years from 1931 to 1964. People loved the Santa images over the years as it became an integral part of their lives. Coke’s version of Santa became people’s version in no time. Coke’s Santa images were very closely followed, the smallest of change in the Santa was noticed. Like:


“One year Santa’s large belt instead of facing front was backward, people noticed it and sent letters to Coke.”


There are many fascinating brand stories around Santa which people till date are hooked to. The brand evolved with times so did its stories, Coke Santa stories revolved around its customers.

It all started with ‘My Hat’s Off’ campaign in 1931 to send the message Coke is an all year drink. Followed by numerous campaigns which became an integral part of people’s life. People waited to see the Coke’s Santa Claus, it unofficially started the Christmas celebration. Such was the power of the brand. The Brand storytelling was the key, where it all began.


Few of the famous Coca-Cola campaigns are the 1936 campaign “Me Too” during the great depression to remind people of the happy days. Then in 1937 came ‘Give and take, say I’ were the Santa takes a Coke and turkey leg from the fridge. The campaign was such people followed the Santa. The campaign showed people leaving Coke for Santa outside side their doors on Christmas, people followed the ad and did the same. Not just people kids left Coke for the Santa on Christmas.  Childhood memories were built with the brand, around the brand.


Storytelling still the core of brand

Coca-Cola has a very strong communication and content strategy build on stories. Stories are the key to establish an emotional connect with consumers, Coca-Cola has gone a step ahead by being a part of the customer’s story or keeping the customer at the core of the brand story.


The brand came out with its Content2020 strategy in 2012 built on storytelling. From then the brand has moved away from a corporate website to a digital magazine called “Coca-Cola Journey” to start with. Telling compelling stories is key to the Content2020 strategy which is very clearly visible from the present Coca-Cola website. The “Digital Magazine” is not focused on giving company information for the stakeholders but stories which are brand related or unrelated but compelling to the user. They believe that the best content is social and emotional at the core with an aim to be shared by the users. All stories are built with three keywords in mind engagement, multifacetedness, spreadability.


Most stories in the Digital magazine focuses on emotion that triggers interactions, the feeling to share the joy. Here the stories emotionally bond with the readers strengthening the relationship. The website has stories from all across the globe. A good example of a story featured and widely read was “the Small World Machines” story. The story is about a campaign executed in India and Pakistan in 2013. There were interactive Coke dispensers with cameras installed in areas of conflict in India and Pakistan. People could see each other; the idea was to unite people.


The bottom of the “Digital Magazine”/ website encourages users to share their pictures. Giving users the option to directly share their happy moments. A consumer had to write the story behind the picture while uploading the picture. This initiative not only encouraged the generation of good user-generated content but also the feeling of brand ownership.


The Brand hasn’t stopped just here, one of its key goals is “kill the press”. They have reduced the number of press releases by over half and aims to completely remove it. They have launched their blogger network “The Opener” similar to the Linkedin’s influencer program but sans big names. The core of all content at Coca-Cola is an emotional story as the soul.


Coca-Cola has taken creativity and storytelling as the core of its business agenda and is implementing its Content2020 strategy with liquid and linked stories “liquid storytelling”.


“The voice of the consumer is the heart of the brand.”