Let’s face it, when it comes to maintaining sustained celebrity among the masses of today’s entertainers, be they rock stars, thespians, divas, hunks, or those seeking eternal popularity for just being famous, one should not be surprised that Santa Claus may just be envied as the number one, most iconic social influencer of all time. Yes, that’s plural because while celebrity in the modern era is a fleeting and fickle status that lasts perhaps a decade or maybe two, the truly iconic celebrity known as Santa Claus is approaching his second millennial as the world’s most revered performer. With such a long history, it may be a surprise to many that “Jolly Ole St Nick” was indeed a real person.
Born in Patera, in Asia Minor on or about the year 280 AD, St Nicholas was a godly man who became best known for his penchant for being generous and kind. The impact of his performance was so popular that after his death, at the age of 63 years, a day on the calendar was declared as a day of gift-giving. Wow, how’s that for an ovation!
Having achieved this level of longevity as an uncommon influencer, it shouldn’t be surprising that some liberties about the old red-clad, white-bearded one would be taken along the way to his achieving iconic status. Today for nearly a century, St Nicholas, or Santa Claus as he is known today, and his wife Mrs. Claus (can we please get this powerhouse behind the man a first name?) live at the North Pole surrounded by a massive number of energetic disciples making toys and gifts for all the children around the world. He and his supporting cast of reindeer set out each year in December in a flying sleigh to make good on his brand promise of rewarding nice children with requested gifts delivered down a chimney. Really! Okay, let’s just avoid all the skepticism here and just call it “Magic”.
What is not magic, but an honest reality of the aging process, is the fact that Jolly Ole St Nick has gained more than a few pounds over the centuries. You see he wasn’t always a bit chubby and cavorting around in a red coat with white fur piping and an accenting cone-shaped cap. He didn’t always have that extraverted and jolly “Ho! Ho! Ho!” delivery either. Apparently, Santa had a few makeovers and met any number of creative editors along the way to stardom. But who are these publicists and message managers that have shaped and formed the image and persona of Santa?
Clement Clarke Moore, the author of the poem “The Night Before Christmas,” is credited with the modern depiction of Santa Claus when he described St Nick as a “chubby and plump” looking cheerful elf with white beard and a tiny nose.” American artist Thomas Nast gave Santa his red and white coat in one of his portraits. And, as has often been said, a star was born. But who are the mavens of creativity behind the nearly two thousand years of annual command performances?
Artist Haddon Sundblom created the first illustrations of Santa as a commissioned artwork for Coca–Cola in 1931. Coke’s “My hats off” campaign initiated a seaming endless list of marketers who saw the potential value in the Santa image and storyline. Everything from libations, candy, sunglasses, and even automobiles have adorned advertisements with images and associations with the great jolly one in the modern marketing era. After all, who wouldn’t want a pair of Avatar sunglasses and a new Plymouth after seeing Santa Claus cruising around in his Avatars and bright red sleigh? The peaceful and generous image of Santa has even been weaponized over the years in the battle of the cola wars between Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Which one will take the marketing trophy this year?
But like all championships of endeavor, not all the attempts to co-op the delivery of happiness via Santa’s persona led to marketing greatness. A National Health Services (NHS) campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 depicted staff nurses treating an ailing Santa back to good health. The ad was intended to honor the unsung heroes of the pandemic. A Tesco effort that featured Santa during the pandemic and announced that “Santa could be quarantined” received a negative response from some consumers who vowed to boycott the store. Apparently depicting Santa as vulnerable and in ill health isn’t popular with children. Who Knew?
The lesson here? “If you’re going to wade into a topic that may be controversial, make sure that you’re well prepared to address it.” So how can a marketing campaign created around Santa Claus achieve success and avoid the threat of calamity?
Be extra careful when creating content so that it enhances the reputation of Jolly Ole St Nick. Perform the due diligence necessary to discover all the emotional nuances of the character. Do not dwell on the perceived unhealthy negatives of Santa’s girth. His chubbiness is considered a positive trait and integral aspect of his personality. And to all the physical fitness mavens out there: Chill! It is a time to keep your opinions on Santa’s diet and physical roundness close to your finely chiseled abs until after the holidays. And above all, don’t even contemplate challenging the existence of his magic.
“HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!”