Did Coca-Cola create Santa Claus?

Coca-Cola didn’t invent Santa, but the modern image we know today started from a 1931 ad.


December 23, 2020

We’re not being glib with that title.

This question is asked so often that Coca-Cola’s official website literally has a FAQ page addressing the topic.

The answer: No, but the popular Santa image we see today was very much crafted by the beverage giant.

In 1931, artist Haddon Sundblom was tasked to create a Santa ad

Prior to Sundblom’s work, there were “many different depictions of Santa Claus around the world, including a tall, gaunt man and an elf — there was even a scary Claus.”

Coca-Cola — despite all efforts by Billy Bob Thornton — wanted a more wholesome and relatable fellow.

The artist drew inspiration from the classic 1822 poem, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” which talks about someone named St. Nick and mentions physical features now found on every mall Santa:

  • “His cheeks were like roses”
  • “The beard of his chin was as white as the snow”
  • “He had a broad face and a little round belly”

Coca-Cola has been diligent about branding since Day 1

In fact, the beverage’s name was picked by Frank Robinson — an employee of inventor John Stith Pemberton — “as he believed the two Cs would look well together to advertise the product.”

Today, Coca-Cola is valued at more than $220B and spends ~$4B a year in advertising, the most by any beverage maker.

Sundblom would crank out Santa for over 3 decades 

His final Santa advertisement for Coca-Cola was in 1964. By this time, Coca-Cola’s makeover of Santa was complete.

While the first ad net Sundblom $1k (equivalent to ~$20k today), the payoff for Coca-Cola is clearly an order of many magnitudes more.

As for the myth that Coca-Cola’s Santa wears red to reflect the company’s brand colors… that’s actually just luck. Santa has always rocked a red coat.

(P.S. If you need a hilarious “Bad Santa” shoutout, find our own Bobby Durben — AKA the world’s best Shower Thoughts curator — on Cameo.)

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