Coca-Cola's association with the idea of Santa Claus dates back nearly a century. Coca-Cola is often credited with creating the contemporary image of Santa as we know him today, but there's more to the story than meets the eye. In this piece, we'll take a look back at the origins of Coca-Cola's Santa marketing strategy, analyze its 2023 campaign, "The World Needs More Santas," and discuss the brand's lasting impact on the Christmas season.
The Early Years: Coca-Cola Meets Santa (1920s–1930s)
Coca-Cola's Christmas commercial in the 1920s marked the beginning of the company's long and famous history with Santa Claus. Traditional depictions of Santa Claus, as seen in the earliest commercials, have him looking quite stern. In 1930, however, the company made a huge leap forward when it included a department store Santa holding a Coke and smiling at the camera. Having Santa Claus represent Coca-Cola was more than simply a marketing gimmick. It embodied the company's commitment to positivity, joy, and social responsibility. The advertising was an instant success with the public. The Coca-Cola Santa we know and love today did not make his debut in the company's advertisements until 1931.
Haddon Sundblom: Shaping the Santa We Know (1930s–1960s)
In 1931, Coca-Cola commissioned artist Haddon Sundblom to create promotional graphics, and his work included the now-iconic image of Santa Claus. The warm, cheerful, and pleasingly chubby Santa Claus that Sundblom created was inspired by the 4th-century Bishop Saint Nicholas. The image's message of goodwill, generosity, and kindness was a wonderful fit with the principles upheld by Coca-Cola. Sundblom found motivation in the 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement Clark Moore, also known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." He depicted a real, live man as Santa Claus in his paintings. In 1931, Sundblom's earliest depictions of Santa Claus appeared in The Saturday Evening Post for Coca-Cola. From 1931 to 1964, Santa Claus appeared in Christmas advertisements for Coca-Cola. He did everything from distributing toys and playing with them to sipping Coca-Cola and rifling through fridges. The paintings became so well-known that they were reproduced everywhere, from magazines and billboards to store displays and stuffed animals.
Coca-Cola's Holiday Tradition: The Santa Legacy (1960s–Present)
Even though Sundblom finished his last version of Santa in 1964, Coca-Cola kept using Santa Claus inspired by his original artwork for many years. Today, many people consider these paintings to be valuable collectibles that are highly cherished. They have also been displayed in exhibitions all around the world. In 1942, Coca-Cola's holiday advertising made history with the introduction of "Sprite Boy," a beloved character brought to life by Sundblom. It's considered one of the most iconic moments in Coca-Cola's advertising history. During the 1940s and 1950s, Sprite Boy, a charming character with elf-like features, captured the hearts of many as he joined the Coca-Cola holiday campaigns.
Coca-Cola has a long-standing holiday marketing tradition where they feature Santa Claus in familiar and heartwarming scenes. Not only have these campaigns connected with consumers, but they have also played a role in shaping holiday traditions. After the 1937 campaign, kids started leaving Coca-Cola out for Santa Claus at night, capturing the true essence of the holiday season. The interactions between the brand and its consumers helped strengthen the connection between Santa Claus and Coca-Cola.
2023 Campaign: "The World Needs More Santas"
In 2023, Coca-Cola once again displays its innovative abilities with the ad "The World Needs More Santas." This holiday commercial continues Coca-Cola's longstanding tradition of using Santa Claus as a symbol while also highlighting the company's commitment to the principles of charity, togetherness, and goodwill.
WPP Open X and VML put a fresh spin on the traditional holiday ad with this magical one. The advertisement's opening line is the simple yet profound "Anyone can be Santa." The commercial takes place in a metropolis where hundreds of Santas roam the streets, bringing goodwill and charity to the masses, to the tune of "I Could Be Santa Claus" by Celeste. The warm and fuzzy scenes show Santas all across town helping others without expecting anything in return. While another Santa helps another Santa at the gym lift big weights, one Santa helps another Santa call a taxi while his arms are full of presents. One of the Santas, in a touching moment, gives his buddy Santa the remaining Coca-Cola from the vending machine. A charming surprise, however, shows that the citizens of the city of Santas are not mystical characters but just regular folks who choose to act kindly at random. This unique marketing strategy elegantly highlights the notion that everybody may find their inner Santa.
"The World Needs More Santas" is an epitome of Coca-Cola's brand principles, which stand for happiness, optimism, making a difference, friendliness, and giving. According to Islam Eldessouky, global head of creative strategy and content at Coca-Cola, the campaign was the culmination of a year-long planning process that incorporated ideation from creative teams worldwide and consumer validation. This advertisement, which Pontus Lowenhielm of the directing team Traktor and Stink Films produced, demonstrates Coca-Cola's commitment to making a difference throughout the holiday season. It's a moving reminder that in these trying times, there is no greater need than to share happiness and goodwill with others. Coca-Cola deftly stresses that the holiday spirit can be found in anyone who is willing to channel their inner Santa Claus.
Going Global: A Widespread Impact
Coca-Cola's "The World Needs More Santas" campaign has worldwide reach, touching the hearts of people in more than 80 markets. Two Christmas-themed short films and an updated version of the "Create Real Magic" artificial intelligence platform are part of Coca-Cola's expanded holiday marketing this year. The campaign uses a wide variety of channels, from television and the internet to in-store events, online games, and on-pack promotions. Coca-Cola's "Find Your Inner Santa" quiz, accessible via the Coca-Cola App and mobile browsers, has democratized the creative process. After taking the questionnaire, users will learn more about their "inner Santa" and be given promotional materials to use over the holiday season.
Coca-Cola's "Holidays are Coming" ad campaign is one of the company's most recognizable and longest-running seasonal promotions. This classic commercial debuted in 1995 and features the arrival of the Coca-Cola Christmas trucks decked out in holiday lights and decorations. The ad captures the spirit of the holiday with its upbeat tune and images of happy families spending time together. Across the globe, people wait with bated breath for the first glimpse of the brightly lit trucks making their way across the snowy landscapes, which has come to symbolize the approach of Christmas. By associating Coca-Cola with the holiday spirit and cheer, this ad has succeeded in creating a sense of wonder and expectation.
Islam Eldessouky, global head of creative strategy and content at Coca-Cola, highlights the brand's intention to establish a deep and meaningful connection with consumers. He believes that a true relationship with consumers requires value exchange, engagement, and participation. The more Coca-Cola can engage consumers and encourage them to participate, the stronger this relationship becomes, ultimately leading to business success. While Coca-Cola continues to find innovative ways to connect with its audience, it remains grounded in its core values. Coca-Cola's consistency in its messaging over the years is a testament to its enduring commitment to refreshing and making a difference.
Embracing AI and Real Magic
Coca-Cola's intention to expand the "Create Real Magic" AI platform exemplifies the company's dedication to innovation. This strategy uses modern means of communication to involve the audience directly in the story. The brand's unique use of AI in its Christmas promotions has added a new layer to its marketing strategy. Another fan favourite, the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck Tour, will once again be happening this year. Activities on the trip include meeting local nonprofits, sending electronic holiday cards, and eating at local vendors' stands. Some regions collaborate with neighbourhood organizations to boost community involvement in the form of donations and volunteer hours. On-pack scannable codes are a crucial part of marketing. With these keys, you can access the "Find Your Inner Santa" questionnaire and be entered to win holiday-themed prizes, such as a trip for two to Rovaniemi, Finland, the city widely acknowledged as Santa Claus's official place of residence.
The Power of TV at Christmas
Coca-Cola's advertising budgeting strategy has changed over the past few years. It committed fewer than 30% of its overall media budget to digital channels in 2019. Over 60% is now being used. Changing consumer behaviours are the primary factor in this transformation, especially among younger consumers like Gen Z, who are less likely to watch traditional TV and more likely to connect with other types of media. Coca-Cola acknowledges that, despite the trend toward digital media, there are times when a significant TV presence is warranted. Certainly, Christmas is one of those times. Coca-Cola knows the importance of making Christmas commercials that stand out in people's minds by taking advantage of the increased time they spend in front of the TV during this season. Coca-Cola agrees that while the 'what' of its messaging stays consistent, the 'how' is where it aims to inject new ways of engaging and participating with consumers.
A monument to the effectiveness of branding and a consistent message, Coca-Cola's partnership with Santa has endured for decades. Coca-Cola didn't create the modern image of Santa, but it certainly helped shape and reinforce it. With the slogan "The World Needs More Santas," the brand's 2023 advertising campaign shows its commitment to bringing holiday cheer and goodwill to all. Coca-Cola has been successful in creating lasting relationships with customers all over the world thanks to ads that touch the heart, cutting-edge use of artificial intelligence, and engaging in-person encounters. The company understands the need to embrace digital media while also recognizing the enduring impact of a major TV moment, particularly around the holidays. Coca-Cola recognizes the importance it plays in bringing people together and celebrating the season, and it wants people to know that it is sending a simple but profound message: the world needs more Santas. Coca-Cola's message this holiday season is to find your inner Santa and use it to make the world a better place.