We’ve all heard the wives tales about Santa Claus. You’re sure to hear the story at least once a year about how Santa was originally clad in Green robes until the Coca Cola corporation came along, claimed him and recoloured his garments. But how much truth is in the wives tale?
The truth is that St Nicholas appeared in red in numerous illustrations and books far before Coca Cola was invented. In fact, he was depicted in a variety of ways; stocky, slim, tall, short, young and old. So it can’t be said that Coca Cola invented their version of Santa entirely – rather they looked at what was available, picked their favourite and popularised it.
The original Saint Nicholas, who Santa is believed to be based around, was the Bishop of Myra in the 4th Century. He wore red and white, as they were the traditional Bishop robes, and he was famed for his kindness and generosity to children and the poor, so it’s easy to make a case for this kindly Bishop to be the first draft of Santa.
In 1931, we saw Santa taking the shape that we all know and love today, when Coca Cola commissioned Haddon Sundblom – an esteemed illustrator – to create their image of Santa Claus that would mark the beginning of their 30 year Santa orientated Christmas ad campaign.
Coca Cola began their iconic Christmas tradition purely because they weren’t selling as much of their product in their winter months as their summer months, and they wanted to brand Coke as a drink for all weathers, not just for sipping through a straw in the garden.
So, through ingraining their branding into the traditions that mark this time of year, they wove themselves into the Christmas discourse. Their success is measurable by the fact that many families even leave out a bottle of coke for Santa, along with a mince pie and carrot for Rudolph.
So while our relatives might love to tell us about how Coke rebranded Christmas, the truth is that we can’t accuse them of stealing Santa. The truth is that the Coca Cola Christmas takeover goes far beyond Santa’s outfit. From their seasonal glass bottles, to their truck tour every year, to the excitement that builds every year when we all see the Coca Cola Christmas advert on TV for the first time that year, they’ve situated themselves at the forefront of Christmas by utilising a thorough, consistent and engaging annual campaign.