Was Santa Claus invented by Coca-Cola? Truth be told, searching that question on the Internet would provide many different answers, from the absolute affirmative to the negative. Based on our research, we would conclude that it was a mixture. Though Coke did not "create" Santa Claus, nor did they create the famed red-and-white suit (though they spruced him up a bit in their Coca-Cola red), the company did use Santa's image well enough to cement the jolly, heavyset figure in American culture.
Coca-Cola has been a brilliant user of advertising for nearly a century. In a documentary about the battle between Coke and Pepsi, the producers note that Coke, when it started to add more distributors across America, dumped 20% of its revenue into advertising. This was in the early 1900s, when conducting a massive advertising campaign wasn't commonplace.
In the 1920's and 1930's, the wars and the Depression really decreased sales and lowered overall American morale. Coca Cola seized the opportunity to be an ambassador of goodwill and hired the D'Arcy Advertising Agency, which in turn found illustrator Haddon Sundblom to create the Santa Claus image that Coke wanted to announce to America, and later to the world.
Did Coca Cola create Santa Claus? No. But it cannot be argued that Coca Cola's advertising with Santa Claus made the figure more popular and accessible in the American holiday experience.
What's more, Coca-Cola itself says that before it started using the image of Santa, the Claus was represented in many different ways, from fat and mean to short and elf-like and to tall and skinny. The Coca-Cola ad bombardment with Santa solidified how Santa should be seen. Its advertising ended the search for the right image.
Here we see the permanent impact that good advertising can have on a society. The fact that a holiday figure can be tied to an organization that produces flavored, carbonated water is simply incredible. People will continue to link Santa with Coca-Cola now and in the future, and it all started with a big advertising idea.
Something to think about.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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