In the beginning, Santa Claus was a multi-dimensional figure, that lent itself to multiple interpretations. But in the 1920′s his popular image began to take form….

White Rock Beverages began using the image of Santa Claus to sell Mineral Water in 1915. Very popular around Christmas time, the bottled water came from the White Rock natural spring in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Native Americans and settlers in the area believed the spring waters had magical powers. Using White Rock: The spring is actually a gateway to the Dreamlands, and the waters bottled with Santa’s image flow from the cold rivers in the lands of Mnar. The investigators may discover this when they find a special Christmas present in their latest bottle of White Rock mineral water around Christmas time – a small Elder Sign, shaped as a stone five-pointed star with a curious cartouche in the center.

"Santa and White Rock made their Life Magazine debut in the December 12, 1923 issue. It appears that Santa enjoyed a little whiskey with his White Rock while trying to decide if you were naughty or nice. The ad also suggests that White Rock Ginger Ale was a good choice. Says Ken Wheaton of Advertising Age: "It's clear why Santa is jolly. He's about a third of the way through a bottle of whisky."

Santa was then portrayed by dozens of artists in a wide variety of styles, sizes, and colors. However by the end of the 1920s, a standard American Santa—life-sized in a red, fur-trimmed suit—had emerged from the work of N. C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and other popular illustrators. In 1931 Haddon Sundblom began thirty-five years of Coca-Cola Santa advertisements that popularized and firmly established this Santa as an icon of contemporary commercial culture.

"The Coca-Cola company has a page devoted to Sundblom’s Santa campaign, but they get it wrong too, laying claim to introducing the modern version of Santa to the world with nary a mention of Leyendecker or Rockwell, who had been doing their Santa thing in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post for years before Sundblom’s Santa Appeared. (Gee, an American food-product company making unsubstantiated and inaccurate claims? Shocking! For further reference, I point you to an excerpt from Santa Claus: A Biography by Gerry Bowler.)"

This Santa was life-sized, jolly, and wore the now familiar red suit. He appeared in magazines, on billboards, and shop counters, encouraging Americans to see Coke as the solution to “a thirst for all seasons.” By the 1950s Santa was turning up everywhere as a benign source of beneficence, endorsing an amazing range of consumer products. This commercial success led to the North American Santa Claus being exported around the world.And Santa was a born-again, emblematic of America: – a blend of Christian crusader, pagan god, and pop culture commercial idol.

Coca Cola:Our Santa was created by artist Haddon Sundblom. But Sundblom took a different approach to Santa with this 1947 painting showing soldiers getting ready for Christmas. (Of course, the soldier is dressing as Santa only because the real St. Nick was busy at the time!

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"In the 1920s, The Coca-Cola Company began to promote soft drink consumption for the winter holidays in U.S. magazines. The first Santa ads for Coke used a strict-looking Claus. In 1930, a Coca-Cola advertised with a painting by Fred Mizen, showing a department store Santa impersonator drinking a bottle of Coke amid a crowd of shoppers and their children. Not long after, a magical transformation took place. Archie Lee, then the agency advertising executive for

Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, the Company commissioned Haddon Sundblom, a Michigan-born illustrator and already a creative giant in the industry, to develop advertising images using Santa Claus. Sundblom envisioned this merry gentleman as an opposite of the meager look of department store Santa imitators from early 20th century America. "

The color RED was brought in to Santa’s costume by the COCA-COLA company’s marketing department in the 1930′s, but it is coincidentally the “seasonal color” inherited from the sun-worshipping Pagans. He flies horned beasts (by sorcery?) through the air at night, and enters homes by means of the fireplace — the ancient Pagans’ most sacred spot in their homes.

Here’s where the genius of Coca-Cola comes in. First, Sundblom’s image of Santa Claus hit the right buttons in terms of stirring the hearts and quenching the thirst of consumers everywhere. Modeled on a retired salesman named Lou Prentice, Sundblom’s Santa had just the right combination of happy wrinkles, prompting Coca-Cola to hire Sundblom to create Coke ads using this model over the next 35 years. Also, Coca-Cola orchestrated an attack on the market with Santa-Coke propaganda. Magazine advertisements were particularly effective, considering that during that era, print publications had the influence TV does today: They were able to communicate over and over and over again the same image and slogan to a mass audience.

"The first Santa Claus painting made by Haddon Sundblom for the Coca-Cola Company, as it appeared in the December 26, 1931 issue of Collier's Magazine. Sundblom painted a new Santa illustration for Coca-Cola almost every year until 1964. Collection of Val R. Berryman, Curator of History, MSU Museum."

Point-of-purchase promotional items were extremely common. Collectibles were another way Coca-Cola expanded its presence–a strategy that is standard today for many advertisers, from Nike to Joe Camel. Finally, Coca-Cola patented a particular shade of red–that bright red used for Coke packaging and for Santa’s suit. All of the artists hired to work for Coca-Cola were required to use this shade of red, influencing consumers, no doubt, to make the constant association between red and Coke and Santa. This is perhaps the biggest kicker, considering that there is little consistency with regard to the color of Santa’s suit between Nast’s version, Moore’s literary image and early European portrayals.

Norman Rockwell

Sometimes Coca-Cola revives Sundblom’s Santa in a commemorative appeal to its loyal consumers, but the story is rarely told. As Mark Pendergrast, author of For God, Country and Coca-Cola, concluded: “Prior to the Sundblom illustrations, the Christmas saint had been variously illustrated wearing blue, yellow, green, or red…After the soft drink ads, Santa would forever more be a huge, fat, relentlessly happy man with broad belt and black hip boots–and he would wear Coca-Cola red…While Coca-Cola has had a subtle, pervasive influence on our culture, it has directly shaped the way we think of Santa.”


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