Some of the most popular brands in the world today had interesting beginnings. Facebook was initially launched as “Face Mash”, a program that pitted Harvard student’s looks against one another after Mark Zuckerberg hacked the student directory. Avon originally sold books door-to-door, not beauty supplies. Oh, and Google was originally called “Backrub”.
We know the origin stories of countless brands just like these, but do we know where perhaps the most popular brand of all time during this Christmas season originated from? I’m talking about the big man himself - Santa Claus. As we enter December, the evidence around us is overwhelming; Santa Claus is no longer just a man, he’s a full-blown brand.
Santa's History: A Long Journey of Many Different Looks
So how then, has this Santa Claus gotten a pass all these years? After all, the man asks us to take our children to the mall to sit on his lap and stick an envelope with our names and addresses on it into a completely fraudulent mailbox in the middle of downtown. Not to mention, he also lands eight tethered wild animals onto our roofs and kisses mommy under his beard so snowy white! I mean, what do we really know about this man?
For the sake of our children, and just in case that whole “naughty and nice” list is a real thing, I thought I would dive into the history of Jolly Old St. Nick to put all of our minds at ease. However, this is not just going to be any boring history lesson. Instead, I am going to journey into the evolution of Santa Claus the brand. That way, we can all see the genesis of the man all the way up to his current form splattered on everything from M&M commercials to the label on your neighbor’s seasonal basement microbrew.
We’ll have some fun along the way, and imagine what Santa’s email signature might have looked like through each phase. After all, the email signature is an extension (and possibly the most popular touchpoint) of any brand, right?
280 A.D: “Saint Nicholas: A Start-Up NFP”
Multiple sources agree that the origin of the Santa Claus we revere today traces back to a saint named Nicholas in an area near modern-day Turkey. The brand was founded on the ideal of philanthropy as Saint Nicholas was believed to be a man of substantial wealth who helped poor women.
What this stage of the brand lacked in visuals and design, it more than made up for in organic marketing through word-of-mouth referrals as Saint Nicholas was one of the most popular saints in all of Europe. I like to refer to this marketing as “Jay-Z and Beyonce’s Twins” marketing: I’ve never seen them, but I know I like them.
Early 1800’s: “Global Rebrand: Sinter Klaas”
The 1800’s contain the first vestiges of the Santa Claus brand going global and breaking out of Europe and into the United States. Under the name Sinter Klaas (a shortened version of the Dutch form of Saint Nicholas), the Santa Claus brand we know today gained in popularity, but lost its consistency. Authors and playwrights started including the character in their works, but they all seemed to have varying opinions on his appearance. Everything from a large man with a red waistcoat and large brimmed hat to a fit and healthy man in a three-pointed blue hat, yellow stockings, and finally something having to do with “Flunkish hose”. Not to mention in European tradition Sinter Klaas lives in Spain (not the North Pole) and travels to the homes of children on a steam boat (not a sleigh).
This version of the brand, while successful in its international growth, failed to remain consistent as it engaged with different audiences. Especially while expanding, a brand’s strength is vitally contingent upon its uniformity, lest we have Santa Claus walking around in yellow tights.
1822: “A Unifying Message”
In 1822, American writer and professor Clement Clarke Moore penned a poem entitled, “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” In this poem, Moore solidifies tons of swirling bits and pieces of the Santa Claus brand into the firm character of which all of our present-day illustrations are based. Everything from the eight reindeer to the bag full of toys (spoiler: no mention of Flunkish hose).
Think about when Apple's longtime agency partner, TBWA/Chiat/Day Los Angeles, created the poem/ad “The Crazy Ones” (which ended up being the canon for Apple’s iconic “Think Different” brand). Similarly, Moore’s poem would serve as the dogma to which all future branding of Santa Claus would be portrayed. You might recognize Moore’s work under its more common title in today’s world: “The Night Before Christmas.”
1931: “Santa Goes Mainstream”
Although commonly credited, we now know (from the above) that Coca-Cola’s 1931 advertising campaign featuring our jolly friend was not the solidifying moment in the Santa Claus brand. However, it was still a pivotal moment in the brand’s timeline. The Coca-Cola company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to create the image for Santa Claus for their ads in hopes of boosting soda sales during the holidays. If you’ve ever been to the office of a once-trendy start-up that went public and has a visual timeline plastered in their entryway, this Coca-Cola moment would be the framed picture of the executive team ringing the NYSE bell.
Although both were obviously around, neither TV nor Radio were doing a great job of advertising on a national level. However, a brand like Coca-Cola could be found in every department store and diner from coast to coast. So effectively, the thousands of Coca-Cola billboards, magazines ads, and bottles featuring Moore’s Santa Clause imprinted the image in the minds of Americans nationwide.
Modern Day: “Santa is Americana”
Today, the Santa Claus brand rivals that of Disney, Amazon, and Nike. As we approach 2018, the love affair with Santa is only going to get deeper. After all, we ride in cars with strangers with Uber, we stay in strangers homes with Airbnb, and we swipe right on stranger’s photos in hopes of getting a date through Tinder — why then should we not continue to let a stranger into our living rooms using the chimney as an entryway?
The Santa Claus brand is the preeminent example of longevity and has now achieved the ultimate prize: Much like Kleenex, BandAid, or ChapStick, it is no longer even seen as just a brand, rather it is fully ingrained into American culture.
How Has Your Company's Brand Evolved?
Has your company’s brand changed or evolved since day one? Much like Santa, it probably has, which requires coordination and time from your Marketing team to ensure all brand touch points are up-to-date and consistent. The employee email signature is included in this mix, and that’s where we come in. We make it easy to centrally control email signatures across your entire organization, so you know each employee email sent is beautifully branded and consistent with your new look.