Santa Claus: Coca-Cola’s powerful icon

Coca-Cola has an advertising tradition using the figure of Santa Claus. Their ads show a Santa Claus who fulfills children’s dreams at Christmas and drinks the beverage as a reward.

The Santa Claus History

The brand’s inspiration is a diocesan bishop named Nicholas. He lived between the 3rd and 4th centuries in a region of Lycia (now within Turkey territory), in the bosom of a wealthy family. Since childhood, he stood out for being generous and pious.

After his death on December 6, 343 A.D., he became the first non-martyr saint to enjoy special devotion in the West. Today, more than two thousand Christian churches worldwide are dedicated to him.

The arrival of Santa Claus on U.S. soil coincided with the Dutch migration during the 17th century. Around this time, the image underwent noticeable transformations, going from the rigid dignity of a bishop in the bishop’s vestments to a friendly character dressed in ordinary clothes.

As was usual with early Christian saints, his popularity grew among the pious, and his legendary habit of secretly giving gifts inspired Coca-Cola to create the Santa Claus archetype.

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The Author of the Santa Claus Icon

Haddon Sundblom, considered one of the most important advertising image artists of the 20th century, was hired to carry out the work.

The cartoonist joined the company in 1931 and worked on Christmas advertisements for 34 years, making Santa Claus a powerful image for Coca-Cola globally.

Sundblom was born in Muskegon, Michigan, on June 22, 1899, and died in Chicago at 76.

To create the character, Sundblom turned to Clarke Moore’s poem, “It Was the Night Before Christmas,” where the writer first described the physical appearance of Santa Claus (sturdy, pleasant, and very human), who brings toys to children every Christmas.
From that description, Sundblom drew the character’s good-natured appearance and dressed him in red with white trim, the brand’s corporate colors. Coca-Cola debuted its “new humanized identity” at Christmas 1931.

In its illustrations it was adapted to the brand’s advertising needs for posters, calendars, billboards, and store advertisements without sacrificing its true value. In addition to having a commercial purpose, the icon conveyed family unity, peace, and joy during the Christmas season.

From the artist’s perspective, Santa Claus, Quaker Oats, pin-up girls, and middle-class American families consuming the products advertised in the time’s media helped define the American dream.

At the age of 72, Playboy magazine asked Sundblom to draw its cover for the December 1972 issue. That illustration marked the end of his contribution to 20th-century advertising art.