For many years there has been a rumour that Coca Cola invented Santa Claus as we know him today. But how much advertising is really in our tradition?
In 1931 Haddon Sundblom was commissioned by the shower manufacturer Coca Cola from Atlanta/USA to draw a Christmas motif for the advertising campaign. The key visual was intended to depict Santa Claus drinking Coca-Cola, the bestselling product. This was not the first order from the soft drink manufacturer, but the first time that his long-time friend Lou Prentiss was not a model. He had died in 1931, and in need Haddon stood out from the mirror. Coca Cola is satisfied and buys the motif for the Christmas campaign. All the more astonishing that the "tradition-conscious" Americans write many letters of complaint to the company, with Santa something does not agree: "The belt is reversed". Nevertheless, the self-portrait of Santa Claus, who until then had been seen almost all over the world, still shapes the picture. But Haddon Sundblom could already fall back on previous artists for his drawings.
Not invented. But stylistically shaped since epochs.
Back to the beginning. The mythical bishop Nikolaus of Myra is said to have worked miracles in the 4th century AD and secretly made generous gifts. His robe: a red bishop's robe. It was not until the 19th century, however, that a caricature was first designed in the traditional sense to depict St. Nicholas and thus Santa Claus. He wore his red robe for the first time in 1821 in the anonymously written and illustrated poem "The Children's Friend". His appearance reminded still strongly of a strict bishop (see fig. left). But already in 1823 in the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" the first features of today's Santa Claus were characterized. A cheerful man with thick cheeks, still somewhat gnomish and with a belly that "wobbles like a bowl of jelly when laughing", so the poem by the professor of literature Clement Clark Moore (fig. middle).
But then an immigrant of German parents named Thomas Nast gave the whole thing the usual picture. In the political magazine "Harpers Weekly" of January 1863, the illustrator published a Santa: patriotically dressed with striped trousers and stars on dark fur jackets, who freely distributed gifts to the army. In the following years he published regular commissioned works and so the picture of the proud beard, the thick belly and the red cheeks was imprinted. Over the years, his jacket changed from brown fur to a bright red coat; his hat became a pointed cap, his face increasingly kind.
Haddon Sundblom used these drawings to give his Santa Claus a sympathetic and in the society as immediately as possible accepted debut in Coca Cola. Haddon drew "his" Santa Claus until 1964. The birth of our memory. By the way, Sundblom's last commissioned work was published in 1972 on the title of American Playboy.
Although the Coca Cola brand did not invent Santa Claus either in terms of content or appearance, the company has ensured that we - and future generations - have this image in mind through constant media impact. And thus also the soft drink manufacturer from Atlanta and its brand communication. The brand agency Brands For Characters also works with its clients to get defined corporate images into the long-term memory of the consumer. To achieve this, however, the team, task and communication must be right and campaigns must be emotionally charged over and over again for years.