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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”