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Dear Santa, Traditional Branding Works
By: Don McLean
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Change or die. You hear it often. Change is something people have come to expect in most aspects of their life. Brands are constantly changing and for a number of them they should be. There are a few things that never change, such as the taste of Coke (although they tried), the feel of cotton, and Santa.
 
Why don't they change? Why hasn't Santa been updated to a soy milk drinking vegan under 200 lbs and stripped of the red suit? There are many reasons. The Santa we know today can be mainly attributed to illustrator Thomas Nast. He first illustrated Santa Claus in Harper's Weekly in 1862 during the Civil War. In total, Nast created 76 published engravings of our beloved Santa. Now you may or may not know, but Santa's first appearance in advertising was not the popular Coca-Cola campaign that started in the 1930s.
 
Santa's first appearance in advertising came by way of the White Rock Beverages in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1915. Haddon Sundblom continued on the same jolly old Santa trend with his Coca-Cola advertisements from the 1930s through the 1950s. Today, Santa is portrayed exactly the same as he was 150 years ago and is used to sell everything from electronics to cars.
 
Notice the photo of Santa in that first group of advertisements from White Rock. He really has not changed. And who can explain the phenomenon of someone who normally listens to the likes of Lady Gaga wanting to hear Bing Crosby at Christmastime? There only one explanation: tradition.
 
Tradition brings consumers back to their childhood. It reminds them of the simpler things in life and brings them comfort. In a world where everybody is trying to find the next new extreme, it is possible to brand using traditional values and still move forward. Every great brand can bring forth a tradition in their own way.
 
Some brands need to change but some get it wrong. They stray from what made them great and lose. The key is to know your brand story and to build on it. We know Santa comes in on a sleigh, only eats milk and cookies, and lives at the North Pole. We don’t specify the cookies; there could be a thousand different types. This is where Santa can branch out. This is the least barrier to entry for changing something about Santa. Instead of trying to come up with the next new thing out of the blue, ask yourself this: “What are my cookies?”

Photo courtesy of www.whiterocking.com 


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About the Author
Don McLean, MBA is an account supervisor at Airfoil Group, an independent marketing and public relations firm serving tech companies and innovation-centric brands with offices in Detroit, New York and Silicon Valley. Follow Don on twitter at@mclean_don.  
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