Effective holiday marketing means much more than tired gift card promotions and early-bird sales. Gimmicks might spur short-term gains with bargain shoppers but they don’t build long-term relationships that will grow and sustain your business. Loyalty that lasts well after the ornaments are packed away comes from connecting with consumers emotionally.
You don’t do that with discounts. You do it by wrapping your brand in the whimsy, warmth and spirit of the season and making it an indelible part of people’s holiday traditions. Savvy brands have been subtly – and not so subtly – shaping secular Christmas mythology for decades.
Don’t believe that brands have that kind of influence? You probably don’t believe in Santa Claus, either. This post will change your mind – on both counts. Many modern holiday motifs actually originated as seasonal marketing initiatives; none more indelibly than the modern Santa Claus archetype.
Santa’s Jersey Roots
In 1931 the marketing team with Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company faced a perplexing problem. Coke was viewed as a seasonal product synonymous with sun and fun. For decades, sales of the saccharine soda swelled during the spring and summer but waned in the winter. The company desperately wanted to convince consumers that Coke was a cold weather drink as well. Over the years a variety of marketing campaigns had attempted to do just that by linking Coke to the most ubiquitous winter figure in popular culture – Santa Claus. Numerous campaigns had been launched but the creative never “clicked” and ensuing seasonal sales had remained flat.
Undaunted, the intrepid creative team mustered the marketing moxie to take another crack at a Coke/Claus campaign. One wonders how they sold the 7-time-loser of an idea to senior management… “Okay, we know this concept hasn’t worked for the past seven years, but we have a really good feeling about this year.” Actually, what they had was a fresh new spin on an old idea and they were given the green light. The eighth time would prove to be the charm.
Coca-Cola wasn’t the first soft drink company to use Santa Claus in its advertising. White Rock Beverages of New York used Santa in ads for ginger ale and mineral water as early as 1915. In fact, advertisers had employed St. Nick as pitchman for years by portraying various global incarnations from wizened old sage to a magical troll. This time around Coke’s creative team sought to establish the definitive Santa archetype for their contemporary audience and turned to New Jersey-based illustrator Haddon Sundblom to conceive the Kringle for their new campaign.
Sundblom drew inspiration from traditional as well as unlikely sources. Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (commonly referred to as The Night Before Christmas) provided literary context while Sundblom’s plump, jovial next door neighbor – a retired salesman named Lou Prentice – actually posed for the paintings. Hey, inspiration is everywhere if your imagination is in focus.
Sundblom’s interpretation of the larger-than-life, grandfatherly “jolly old elf” – clad in Coca-Cola red and white – was a departure from many historical depictions and became an instant hit when introduced at the 1931 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Winter sales of Coke skyrocketed and something unexpected and profound began to take shape.
During the next 35 years the “Sundblom Santa” perfectly paired Coke and Christmas in annual holiday campaigns that defined the secular yuletide aesthetic. The die had been cast. Santa Claus was forever branded in the image of Coca-Cola – as well as a retired salesman from New Jersey – and a brand name soft drink was inextricably woven into the pop culture mythology of the world’s most financially lucrative holiday.
The Gift That Keeps On Giving
In the words of newsman Francis Pharcellus Church, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Not because of clever marketing, but because just as in 1897, when those words were written in response to a little girl’s query, we long to believe in the holiday promise of, “love and generosity and devotion.”
People cling to traditions for comfort and security, especially when they come wrapped in a holiday ribbon. Tie that ribbon around your brand and offer authentic emotional value – not the discount kind. Find a way to make your brand a treasured part of your customers holiday traditions and they’ll form lasting bonds that just might make every day seem like Christmas for your business.