I'll sign off this column by referring you to a very clever contemporary take on "Brand Santa" that's circulating out of jolly old England. But first, I'm going to steal from my lede for a chapter about magazine advertising written for The American Magazine, which was edited by Amy Janello and Brennon Jones, and published two decades ago.
In A Visit from St. Nicholas, published in 1823, Clement Clarke Moore evoked a "jolly old elf" who, plump as he was, managed to slip down the chimney. Some 40 years later, when Thomas Nast sketched Christmas scenes for Harper's Weekly, he followed Moore's lead and showed Santa Claus as elfin in stature if not in girth.
Coca-Cola says this 1938 ad by Haddon Sundblom was the first appearance of a child with Santa. There's more on Santa's Coke heritage here.
In the depictions of other artists, Santa was lean. Or he was beardless. Or he wore a crown of holly, like England's Old Father Christmas. Sometimes his costume was red, sometimes blue or green or white. One constant was that he seemed to mingle with mortals only when they slumbered. Santa Claus was, in short, a concept in search of a single, satisfying image. Then in 1931, Haddon Sundblom painted a portrait of him for a Coca-Cola Company advertisement. Santa, in the parlance of advertising, was branded.
There was nothing elfin about Sundblom's Santa except, perhaps, the twinkle in his eye. He was a ruddy-faced fellow, with a hearty smile and a lap ample enough to accommodate a child or two. Not incidentally, his suit and cap were red and white -- the colors of the soft drink's logo.
This image of Santa, reinforced year after year in magazines read by millions of people, became etched in our collective psyche. It epitomizes the power of magazine advertising -- a power summed up by the Crowell Publishing Company in a 1938 trade magazine ad: "In time, magazine advertising makes a product part of our national life: part of our national eyes, pallet, fingertip feel, sensory habit, rooted in the popular flesh and nervous system as well as in the popular mind."What a difference a few decades make -- from The Saturday Evening Post to "The Shadow" to "The Ed Sullivan Show" to Twitter.
For a more contemporary look at Brand Santa, check out the mock briefing book that British agency Quietroom has put together after "santaclaus global enterprises invited us to hew from our raw imagination their brand guidelines."
Here's page 8, "Our Brand Language":
Have a Merry Christmas, everyone.