Most people can agree on what Santa Claus looks like---jolly, with a red suit and a white beard. But he didn't always look that way, and Coke advertising actually helped shape the modern day image of Santa.
2006 marked the 75th anniversary of the famous Coca-Cola Santa Claus. Starting in 1931, magazine ads for Coca-Cola featured St. Nick as a kind, jolly man in a red suit. Because magazines were so widely viewed, and because this image of Santa appeared for more than three decades, the image of Santa most people have today is largely based on their advertising.
|1931 Coke Santa Ad|
Before the 1931 introduction of the Coke Santa Claus, created by artist Haddon Sundblom, the image of Santa ranged from big to small and fat to tall. Santa even appeared as an elf and looked a bit spooky.
Through the centuries, Santa has been depicted as everything from a tall gaunt man to an elf. He has worn a bishop's robe and a Norse huntsman's animal skin. The modern day Santa is a combination of a number of the stories from a variety of countries.
|Santa Claus, 1936|
The Civil War cartoonist, Thomas Nast, drew Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly in 1862, Santa was shown as a small elf-like figure who supported the Union. Nast continued to draw Santa for 30 years and along the way changed the color of his coat from tan to the now traditional red. Though some people believe the Coca-Cola Santa wears red because that is the Coke color, the red suit comes from Nast's interpretation of St. NIck.
The Coca-Cola Company began the Christmas advertising in the 1920's with shopping related ads in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. The first Santa ad used a strict-looking Claus, in the vein of Thomas Nast.
At this time, many people thought of Coke as a drink only for warm weather. The Coke Company began a campaign to remind people that Coke was a great choice in any month. This began with the 1922 slogan "Thirst Knows No Season", and continued with a campaign connecting a true icon of winter---Santa Claus---with the beverage.
In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world's largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store of Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen's painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.
Archie Lee, the D'Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coke Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, The Coke commissioned Michigan born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus--showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa, as Mizen's work had portrayed. him.
For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas", or what it's commonly known to day as "Twas the Night Before Christmas". Moore's description of St. Nick led to an Image of Santa that was warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human. For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa-an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world.
|Haddon Sundblom, 1931|
|Haddon Sundblom, some 30 years later|
From 1931 to 1964, Coke advertising showed Santa delivering (and playing!) with toys, pausing to read a letter and enjoy a Coke, playing with children who stayed up to greet him and raiding the refrigerator's at a number of homes. The original oil paintings Sundblom created were adapted for Coke advertising in magazines, store displays, billboards, posters, calendars, and even plush dolls. Many of those items today are popular collectibles.
The Coke Santa made its debut in 1931, in The Saturday Evening Post and appeared regularly in that magazine, as well as Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and others. The instantly popular ad campaign appeared each season, reflecting the times. One ad even featured Santa in a rocket!
Sundblom continued to create new visions of Santa through 1964. For decades after, Coke advertising has featured Santa's image based on Sundblom's original works.
These original paintings by Haddon Sundblom are some of the most prized pieces in the art collection of the Coke Company's Archives Department, and have been on exhibit around the world, including at the Louvre in Paris, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Isetan Department Store in Tokyo and the NK Department Store in Stockholm.
The Coca-Cola Santa has had a powerful, enduring quality that continues to resonate today. Many of the original paintings can be seen on display at "World of Coca-Cola" in Atlanta, Ga. or touring during the holiday season.
Did You Know?
People loved the Coke Santa images and paid such close attention to them, that when anything changed, they sent letter to The Coke Company. One year, Santa's large belt was backwards. Another year, Santa appeared without a wedding ring, causing fans to write asking what happened to Mrs. Claus.
In the beginning, artist Haddon Sundblom painted the image of Santa using a live model-his friend Lou Prentiss, a retired salesman. When Prentiss passed away, Sundblom, used himself as a model, painting while looking into a mirror. After the 1930's, he used photographs to create the image of St. Nick.
The children who appear with Santa Claus in Haddon Sundblom's paintings wee based on Sundblom's neighbors. However, the neighbors were both girls, and Sundblom simply changed one to a boy in his paintings. He also used the neighborhood florist's dog, a gray poodle in one of his paintings, but painted the animal with black fur. To make the dog stand out in the holiday scene.
The image of Santa Claus has appeared on cartons for bottles of Coke since 1931, when artist Haddon Sundblom first created his version of St. Nick. Early cartons completely covered the bottles of Coke--almost as if they were inside a box--and had a handle at the very top. The carton itself was created--and patented--by the Coca-Cola system. Introduced in 1923, it allowed people to take home more bottle of Coke.
The Coke Polar Bear stars with Santa on the 2006 advertising for the U.S. Hispanic market. The Coke Polar Bear was introduced in 1993 as part of the "Always Coca-Cola" campaign. The first commercial featuring the bear showed was called "Northern Lights" and showed a group of bears watching a "movie" (the Aurora borealis) and drinking from bottles of Coke.
|Santa and Spriteboy|
The "Sprite Boy" character, who appeared with Santa and was used in Coke advertising in the 1940's and 50's, was also created by artist Haddon Sundblom. Though the Coke Company does have a drink called Sprite. The Sprite Boy character was not named for the beverage. Sprite Boy's name came because he is a sprite--an elf. Sprite Boy first appeared in ads in 1942, while the drink Sprite was no introduced until the 1960's.
In 2001, the artwork from Haddon Sundblom's 1962 original painting was used as the basis for an animated TV commercial staring the Coke Santa. The ad was created by Academy Award-winning animator Alexandre Petrov.