The Making of Santa Claus’s Brand

Dec 17, 2019 | Brand Differentiation

It’s the week before Christmas, and the cubicles are bare.
Not a meeting is planned. ???? No one would dare!
Seasonal away messages are being set,
While employees google for the perfect gift set. ????

The year is coming to a close, but let’s ask one more question: how did marketers really craft Santa Claus’s brand?

Make the Brand Consistent

Before 1804, Santa Claus’s personal brand was a hot mess. He couldn’t decide. Should he wear fur? Should the beard be long or trimmed? Does he wear a hat?

These were all important questions. Heck, every guy goes through this all the time. What’s my personal style?

Fortunately for Saint Nick, someone else made the hard choices.

The New York Historical Society, founded in 1804 by John Pintard, established the design of Santa Claus that we’re so familiar with today. It’s a fashion statement that’s stood the test of time for 220 years.

Red is a Great Color, Especially Coca-Cola Red

The New York Historical Society may have nailed down the outfit, but they gave Santa options. He could wear red, white, green, or really any shade of Christmas cheer.

Sometimes a guy needs a little choice in his wardrobe.

Leave it to the brand marketers to kill the options. In the 1930’s Coca-Cola’s marketing team intervened. “Nope,” they said! “Santa’s brand has gotta be Coca-Cola red.”

And so it became. Coke popularized the red and white outfit in their ads, and now can you imagine Santa in any other way?

Create a Compelling Brand Differentiator

Children want to know: How can Santa Claus visit 1.2 billion homes in one night? Answer: flying sleigh! ????

Ok, this part of the brand is downright weird. Have you ever paused to think, “Why does Santa fly around in a sleigh?”

He needed a brand differentiator! Anyone can throw on a costume and deliver presents to children, but do they have a flying sleigh?! ????

We have Washington Irvin, author of the Headless Horseman, to thank for the sleigh. He developed the image of Santa Claus flying his sleigh through the sky to travel from home to home.

Everyone Loves a Mascot

Brand mascots personify a brand and create an added layer of personality. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer adds a bit more joy to Santa’s brand.

Rudolph may be guiding Santa’s sleigh, but he’s also pulling you to the department stores — or at least that’s the strategy.

Rudolph first appeared in 1939 as a coloring book and story by Robert L. May. The department store, Montgomery Ward, commissioned and published the book as a marketing tactic to get kids to buy holiday coloring books.

There was some debate on the color of Rudolph’s red nose. Mr. Montgomery was concerned the nose portrayed the wrong image, “Red noses could be construed as a sign of drunkenness.”

But it’s on brand. Santa is Coca-Cola red, and Rudolph needed to complement the color scheme.

Spread the Merry, Holiday Cheer

If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, you’re not alone! The busiest time for holiday shopping is on December 24th between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. (I might just stop by the mall to experience the last minute insanity.)

While you’re shopping, check out Santa. There’s generations of marketing and branding packed into his story.

Have a very safe and Happy Holiday, and if you celebrate it, Merry Christmas!

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Jeremy Miller

Top 30 Brand Guru

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