We have to admit to being (happily) surprised when Santa Claus’ agent answered our email request for an interview to discuss his branding.
We know how busy he is at this time of the year (the weeks after cyber Monday are when it really ratchets up) – so thanks to him and his PR team for arranging for him to take ten minutes with us on the phone from the North Pole.
Why does Santa wear red?
Hello Starling: Hi Santa, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. We love the brand and know how busy you are. We really appreciate it.
Santa Claus: Sure, no problem.
Hello Starling: So, first up, your brand has been perhaps one of the most successful ever. You secure near 95% face recognition rates around the world – an amazing figure that perhaps only Kim Kardashian, David Beckham and Meghan & Harry have come close to in recent years, and we would just like to ask what you think lies at the heart of this success?
Santa Claus: Well, thanks. I appreciate the compliment. To be mentioned alongside David and Kim is an honour. Big fan of their work. Let me tell you it isn’t an accident and we (the North Pole has an in-house design agency: Donner Und Blitzen) have spent a long time working on it. Think of it as a series of tweaks, an aggregation of marginal gains. Brand evolution, not revolution. We take what works and then always look to build on that…
Hello Starling: So there haven’t been any big changes – for instance, a lot of people think that Coca Cola had a lot to do with your iconic imagery today…
Santa Claus: (Raising his voice) Let me tell you something about Coca Cola, they stole my image right from underneath me. I was a fat, bearded man wearing red long before those magical trucks started rolling around with my face on.
Hello Starling: Can you expand on that?
Santa Claus: Well, I don’t want to upset my lawyers and say anything inflammatory (he chuckles), but let’s put it like this, I looked like this a long time before anybody tried using me to sell a cold fizzy drink in winter. They co-opted my brand. Call it unwanted, unasked for brand synergy. The original brand was built on the back of St Nicholas, everyone knows this, and what was he?
Hello Starling: A nice man?
Santa Claus: No! Well, maybe, but what I mean is he was a Bishop. What colour robes do you think they wear? And of course, the religious, historical significance ties in beautifully with the psychology of the colour red. It is regal, people trust me, I have power, it is warm during winter, I energise and inspire movement and happiness… Do you think Coca Cola invented me? (He laughs again), I invented them! I gave them their warmth in winter.
Hello Starling: But when they co-opted your brand they helped fix the image in people’s minds right?
Santa Claus: Look, credit where it’s due. ‘Sunny’ (Haddon Sundblom) was a fine artist and a good ad man. He knew how to create images that spoke to people. But he didn’t invent me out of thin air. He took existing brand guidelines; cheery, a little overweight, beard and a red cape, and made me into a Norman Rockwell painting. It looks good, sure, but if you think I’m drinking Coca Cola after a long cold night on the sleigh you got another thing coming.
(The PR agent who has been listening in coughs and Santa leaves the phone for a moment).
Santa Claus: Ahh, before I get in trouble I just want to say that (in monotone) I enjoy the brandy left out for me sensibly and never drink while I am on duty, in control of the sleigh nor in the presence of sleeping children.
Hello Starling: Have we got time for one last question?
Santa Claus: Sure.
Hello Starling: What next for the brand? You have survived mass media, industrialisation, great changes in society… What is Santa going to look like in twenty years time?
Santa Claus: Santa is going to look like Santa. The image is fixed now. Significant rebranding would be commercial suicide. We continue to evolve, to be aware of the competition, but do our own thing. Obviously, we can’t compete for most of the year, our focus group work showed that people just don’t want summer Santa, but we own December and can easily survive the rest of the year on that accumulated goodwill. We will continue to work hard to maintain our brand and keep reflecting the hopes and dreams of as many people as possible.
Hello Starling: Again, Santa, thank you. This has been a pleasure. And, on one final, personal note I would like to add that I have been incredibly good this year…
Santa Claus: Send me a letter kid. Tell me all about it.
And with a somewhat distracted ‘ho ho’ the line went dead. Santa Claus had gone.