’Coca-Cola, Atlanta, how may I help you?’

’Coca-Cola, Atlanta, how may I help you?’

’Hello, I’m a journalist from England trying to get in touch with Father


’I’m sorry ... can you repeat that name?’

’Yes, Father Christmas. He’s in your Christmas TV ads.’

’Er ... he doesn’t really ... erm, I’ll have to transfer you to

corporate affairs.’

Coca-Cola’s US press office seemed equally bemused by Marketing’s

efforts to track down its white-bearded brand spokesman. Its London

office was happy to provide pictures of the world’s most recognised Coke

drinker, but interviews were politely declined. So what do we know about


His origins are mysterious; most people believe his previous employment

was as Saint Nicholas, who was known for his generosity to children and

the poor.

Father Christmas as he appears today is inextricably linked with

Coca-Cola, which started using him in its marketing as far back as the


It was the soft drinks giant that asked American artist Haddoon Sundblom

to create a new-look Santa Claus in 1931. Before then Santa had been

depicted in many guises, and his costume was often green. In keeping

with Coca-Cola’s branding he was given a red suit, rosy cheeks and the

famous white beard. Of course, he was also always seen clutching a

bottle of Coke.

Since then, he hasn’t looked back. In fact he has appeared in more

advertising campaigns than even John Cleese. From beer to chocolate,

supermarkets to aftershave, Santa has been rolled out by agencies and

clients to try to boost Christmas sales.

Coca-Cola has built its Christmas marketing campaigns around its very

own Santa for years, and the same image is still being used in 1998’s

Christmas ads, in which he magically appears to hand a bottle of Coke to

a young boy. He also appears on Coca-Cola Christmas packaging.

But there are some in the advertising and marketing business who are

beginning to question whether Santa’s appeal is waning. A TV campaign by

Microsoft in December last year showed Father Christmas and his little

helpers being made redundant by computer software that can answer any

Christmas wish.

Microsoft says the ad was not meant to suggest a serious threat to

Santa, but there have been other warning signs. A recent survey by

accountancy firm Deloitte & Touche revealed that the number of stores

with Santa’s grottoes had dropped from 20% to 10%. Only 5% of consumers

said they would be encouraged to visit a store because Father Christmas

was there.

’More and more stores are quietly getting rid of Father Christmas and

his grotto because it takes up floor space and doesn’t pay off in terms

of attracting shoppers,’ said a Deloitte spokesman.

Toys ’R’ Us, one of the biggest toy retailers in the UK, does not have

Santa in any of its stores. ’It’s just policy not to have a Father

Christmas,’ said a woman in the press office. ’We don’t want to say any

more. Why are you asking about Santa, anyway?’

Even London’s Hamley’s toy store is lukewarm. The store has said

children are becoming more sophisticated and that Santa ’is not doing

enough in terms of what kids want’ - which is, apparently, ’bigger,

brighter and faster’.

But many argue Santa’s popularity is still strong, even in the digital

age. Last year, Coke set up a Santa web site, which it says received

thousands of hits.

It also launched a Christmas roadshow taking Santa and its campaign to

sites across the country. Other supporters of Santa include stores such

as Debenhams, which insists he is as popular as ever. Kids can visit him

for free, but if they want a little present their parents are asked to

pay pounds 1.

Similarly, the Post Office, which has been offering a Santa letter

delivery service since 1963, says sackfuls of letters arrive every


The Post Office delivers letters to Santa that are addressed to him in

Lapland with the post code SANTA 1 - last year it received 75,000


It also replies on behalf of Santa to any child who includes a return


’The volume of letters goes up almost every year and we don’t even

advertise the service,’ said a Post Office spokesman. ’We certainly

don’t see any sign that Father Christmas’s popularity is declining.’

So could the Post Office deliver a letter to Santa from Marketing asking

him to contact us about an interview?

’Well, if you send it we’ll do our best, but I’d imagine he’s pretty

busy at the moment.’

The letter’s in the post. Now we’re waiting for Santa to call - just

like everyone else.



St Nicholas - known for his generosity to children

20th Century

Father Christmas often depicted as a goblin or elf


Coke starts using Father Christmas name in campaigns


Father Christmas gets red suit


Becomes global brand


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