Coca Cola and Santa – An historic sponsorship?

Recently someone suggested to me that Coca Cola’s “relationship” with Mr Christmas was possibly one of the longest running sponsorships around. I thought this would be a good topic for the festive edition of Viewpoint.

It is a common misconception that our modern Santa with his jolly white beard and red outfit was invented by the Coca Cola Company in the 1930s.

In fact the red-suited Santa was around for several decades before the drinks company incorporated him in its winter advertising with a view to improving sales in the colder months.

The American illustrator Thomas Nast drew a rotund and bearded Santa Claus regularly for Harper’s Weekly from the 1860s onwards – often in a red suit. As the advertising industry developed, several companies recruited the now familiar character to sell everything from toothpaste to tyres.

The genius of Coca Cola – or more specifically illustrator Haddon Sundblom –was to standardise the image, with Santa’s outfit in a patented Coca Cola red. Over more than 80 years iconic Christmas advertisements have made the brand and the character inseparable: embedded together in consumer culture.
This strong association with the brand is what makes the ‘Coke invented Santa’ story so credible.

So can we consider Coca Cola’s use of Santa’s image to drive sales in the low season an early form of sponsorship? Well, it is based on an association and shared values of two global brands and Coca Cola had a clear goal in leveraging the association. On the other hand, you can’t really sponsor a fictional character (for those of you who don’t believe in Father Christmas.......).

There is no doubt Santa’s support has been extremely valuable to Coca Cola over the years. I guess you could call it the ultimate personality endorsement. Ho Ho Ho !

Merry Christmas!

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