It’s Christmas Day
and I’m here to say
that creativity is at play
within successful businesses every day.
Just take this tale
of why Coca Cola didn’t fail
because a creative campaign blazed the trail
bringing in Santa to create phenomenal sales.
No joke. Fat, jolly Santa — the guy with the red suit and cap, the thick black belt and sooty boots, the rosy cheeks, the luminous eyes, the brighter-than-white teeth — is the spawn of an advertising campaign by Coca-Cola back in the 1930s.
Surprised? Don’t be. As far as Coca-Cola is concerned, this is public knowledge. The company is open about its role in popularizing Santa; it has even sponsored gallery exhibitions on “Advertising as Art” that explain how it all happened, one of which was held at the Carrousel du Louvre, in Paris, in 1996. Here’s the story:
Back in the late 19th century, when Coca-Cola was new, the whole purpose of the beverage was medicinal. If you were feeling “low” or if you suffered from headaches, a Coke was the perfect remedy. The featured ingredient — cocaine, or coca-bean extract — guaranteed a renewed agility and acuity. Indeed, many people found out about Coke from their pharmacists; the company paid pharmacists a commission if drugstores allowed them to install a carbonation tap on the premises.
By the 1930s, Coca-Cola needed to re-evaluate its business plan. The more controversial aspects of the beverage had long been dealt with (as early as 1903, coca-bean extract was removed and caffeine took its place), but it was the Depression; beverage sales were slow — especially in the wintry months — and Coca-Cola needed a new hook and line to attract the American market.
So, in 1931, Coca-Cola changed its target audience: from the adult looking for a pharmaceutical pick-me-up to the whole family. Coca-Cola was now a great taste to be enjoyed by everyone! To bring the point home, the company launched an extensive advertising campaign that pioneered the use of well-known artists as ad designers. Coca-Cola blitzed pharmacies and stores with promotional material suitable for the whole family.
The most successful illustrations were by a Swedish artist named Haddon Sundblom, whose work depicted a portly white man in a red suit bringing joy to family and friends with a bottle of Coke. The figure in the illustrations was the first modern Santa.
Source: Coca-Claus, Did a soda-pop company invent Santa?
The Boston Phoenix (December 9-16,1999)