Santa has been around a long, long time - arguably since the fourth century A.D. Even his most modern incarnation - the jolly fat chap with the beard, the glasses and the fur-trimmed suit - dates back to 1823, when Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ and its illustrations by Thomas Nast appeared in the New York Sentinel on 23rd December. Poem, art and newsprint launched an enduring and powerful brand that’s been sustained and reinforced ever since.
We’re digging down into his brand position, his soft power and his design to show exactly how and why Santa Claus endures.
The jolly ‘ho,ho, ho’ is instantly recognisable. Catchphrases and slogans don’t always date well, but he’s proof that a good one endures.
Good catchphrases are short, distinct, and communicate the essential values of a brand - think Beanz, Meanz, Heinz - but most of all, they provide an incentive toward something positive. Santa’s doesn’t invite you to buy, sell, sign up or otherwise transact - he just wants to make you smile.
Tone of voice
Santa Claus is never off brand. He’s always smiling - but not grinning, that’s too desperate. He’s always pleased to see you, always wants to know what you want for Christmas, and he always stops and smiles if he’s spotted before vanishing up the chimney.
That consistency is the heart and soul of a brand’s tone, and Santa’s always on point.
His demographic targeting
He knows if you’ve been bad or good - so be good, for goodness’ sake. That last part is important. Santa’s clearly aimed at the ‘nice’ kids and not the ‘naughty’, but he leverages the aspiration of naughty kids to affect their behaviour.
Instead of selling to his existing market, Santa’s actively extending his demographic reach.
Santa visits every child in the world. He reads every letter - including the thank yous. He knows exactly how naughty or nice you’ve been.
Despite working with this huge amount of data, he doesn’t let anyone become just another delivery. Every last point of contact means something to him and it’s all built into his operation. He’s a master of personalised delivery and consumer engagement.
Not oversaturating the market
He ramps up activity once a year - the rest of the time, he’s very quiet. He knows the popular times for a marketing push, and doesn’t burst into your inbox in mid-July. Neither does he outstay his welcome - by New Year’s Eve the reindeer, elves and stockings are out of sight. But when the time comes, he’s active - straight in on the heels of Halloween, with no messing about.
Let’s get something straight right now. The Coca-Cola Company did not invent Santa’s red suit. No, they didn’t. No - they really didn’t.
What they did was cement one of the popular images of Santa. It’s not just the red suit with the white fur trim - it’s the portliness, the jolliness, the all round larger-than-life character, the whole modern Santa Claus. That was one version of the brand, which happened to be the right fit for Coca-Cola, but it was already widespread before their first advertising campaign in 1931.
Other depictions - the green and white suit, the skinnier and more elfin persona, the ‘Kris Kringle’ name popular in a handful of US states - didn’t receive that high-profile boost from brand partnership, and so they fell by the wayside. The result? A consistently designed brand with wider reach than before.
It’s an increasingly cynical world. Despite that, Santa maintains his wholesomely jolly voice without becoming irrelevant.
This is a testament to genuine, honest brand values, underneath the calculated business of maximising market share and securing conversions around calls to action. If your values aren’t real, your messaging will ring hollow, and you’ll never succeed as a brand.
A series of happy accidents and planned designs have created one of the most enduring, recognised and powerful brands in the world. Rare might not have worked on this one, but we’ve helped plenty of other major brands find their voice - check out our case studies here.