’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
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
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
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
’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
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