The Famous Coca Cola Santa
Think of Santa Claus and the immediate image is a plump man dressed in red with black boots, black belt and a large white beard. Yet this iconic image only become popular due to a certain well known cold drink – Coca Cola.
It all started back in 1930 when an artist named Fred Mizen created an advert of Santa Claus standing in a department store drinking a bottle of coke. The following year, Coca Cola decided to run its Christmas advertising campaign in popular magazines such as The New Yorker and National Geographic. They decided to reuse the idea of Santa drinking Coca-cola and commissioned a Michigan illustrator, Haddon Sundblom, to develop realistic images of Santa rather than just a man dressed in a Santa costume. Inspired by Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’, Sundblom created a warm, friendly, plump Santa dressed in a bright red coat.
So popular were these images, that Coca Cola continued the campaign. Between 1931-1964, advertising images showed Santa delivering toys, reading children’s letters, meeting children, drinking coke and raiding refrigerators in search of bottles of Coca-Cola. Typical slogans on the advertising images included ‘My hat’s Off to the Pause that refreshes.’ Other scenes included Santa attempting to quieten the family dog in an advert entitled ‘When friends drop in’, while yet another showed children leaving cokes for him to drink.
Sundblom’s Santa and Coca Cola images appeared everywhere including magazines, store displays, posters, billboards and calendars. Even after he created his final image in 1964, Sundblom’s designs continued to be used. His original paintings are now highly prized items in the Coca-Cola archives, and have been exhibited worldwide at venues like the Louvre, Paris; Isetan Department Store Tokyo and NK Department Store Stockholm. Many of the paintings are now on permanent display at the World of Coca-Cola attraction in Atlanta, Georgia.
Interestingly, all the characters used in Sundblom’s original paintings were based on real people. For Santa, Sundblom began by using a live model, his friend Lou Prentiss, a retired salesman. Later he used his own self portrait, created by looking at his image in a mirror. Children’s images were based on his neighbour’s children, while the dog belonged to a neighbouring florist. Originally the dog was a grey poodle, but Sundblom wanted the dog to stand out more, so he changed the colour of his fur to black.
Errors and changes in the images were quickly noted by Coca-Cola fans, who promptly sent the company a torrent of letters. For example, one year, Santa Claus was portrayed without his wedding ring resulting in lots of queries about Mrs Claus.
Sundblom’s iconic Santa image continues to attract viewers. In 1995, Coca Cola introduced massive Christmas Trucks into their TV campaign. The familiar Sundblom image of Santa raising a bottle of Coke appeared on every truck, while in 2001, the image was animated for another Christmas campaign.
As a result of this worldwide iconography, Santa Claus would not be Santa without his red outfit, bushy white beard and plump, jolly appearance. Even events without any Coca Cola links use this image especially films like Polar Express, Santa in his grotto’s and Santa centres in places like Sweden.
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