Does Santa have a branding problem? A PR Guy’s Perspective

santa needs a PR guyAfter seeing dozens of print and TV commercials over the past few months, actually years, which featured Santa Claus I thought it might be time old St. Nick got some branding assistance.  The image of Santa Claus,  jolly and beloved symbol of the importance of sharing  and giving during the Christmas holiday continues to be exploited.  Dressed in his red suit, black boots and with a long white beard; people all over the world recognize his image and its message.  From a personal branding perspective Santa’s a super star, bigger than Elvis or Lady Gaga will ever be.  It is for this exact reason why businesses offering all kinds of products and services have latched onto Santa, making him their seasonal spokesperson and product endorser. 

Departing from the North Pole on his sleigh driven by eight reindeer (not Mercedes automobiles or red trucks), Santa makes his way to homes around the world.  He dives down the chimneys and leaves presents under the Christmas tree for all good children.  His story image and message is simple and helps to motivate children to behave throughout the year.  Whether you “believe” or not the innocent and positive message of Santa is clear and recognizable to all.

According to Isabelle Albanese’s page on How to Make Your Messages Memorable we see part of the reason why Santa’s image and message is so easily and often used.  “When a piece of communication is to the point, relevant, worthwhile, and compelling, it moves you — the listener or reader — to action.  Moving people is not magic — it’s all about effective communication. Anyone can achieve effective communication by using a simple tool that has an uncanny ability to pinpoint why any message works or doesn’t work, and how to improve it.”  

We can learn much from Santa and it is time we give him a little branding advice. We live in a mass communication and overly commercialized society.  The image of Santa Claus has become an image in countless marketing campaigns and commercials.  One of the first companies to prominently feature Santa in mass marketing was Coca Cola back in the 1920s.  Coke used the image of Santa in many ways and promoted his wholesome image and garb to market its products.  This resonated with the consumers and the iconic Coca Cola bottle and Santa are linked together as part of Americana.  Lesson to be learned Santa, from a personal branding and marketing perspective, protect your brand and your image.  Watch out for your reputation and don’t let others use your image for their purposes.  Recently Instagram (owned by Facebook) changed their user agreement, permitting them to use images people have uploaded online to their free service.  Images of individuals can now be used for promotion and marketing of Instagram.  The settings and policy may change but be careful where you post information and your image, once you let it go who knows how it will be used.  

We know Santa’s message but do we know the “real story.”  A Santa in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts or dressed in red leather for a motorcycle commercial is far from the legend.  

Let’s turn the page and a look back into the origin of Santa Claus, which is St. Nicholas.  Born in the third century in the village of Patara (which is now Demre, Turkey), Nicholas was recognized as a saint before the canonization process began by the Roman Catholic Church.  His first act of giving was when he gave away his inheritance from his wealthy parents to the needy, sick and suffering.  Nicholas became a Bishop, dedicated his life to God and became known for his generosity towards others.  Through folklore dating back centuries, the modern depiction of Santa was adopted as the man in the red suit and white beard.  He has evolved into what we see today.  Simply Google Santa and you will find countless images. 

The story of Santa Claus is rooted in the act of giving to others less fortunate, which is something that should be upheld and recognized.  While it is important for businesses to thrive, and a pathway to success can be marketing campaigns, a sense of history and morality should not lose its place in the equation.  The image and message of Santa Claus brings happiness to families, rewards to children who are “nice” instead of “naughty.” When Santa is portrayed without these attributes and values, the essence of what Santa represents is diminished.

We learn from his story and legend that it is important, for business people and for Santa, to stay on message.  Don’t let others control your message and how you want others to perceive you.  Your personal brand matters and it needs to be constantly tended to and monitored.  

Thankfully there are many real “Santas” around the world and across the United States who work hard and dedicate their time and efforts for good, charity and for children.  Let’s hope more of the these individuals continue to positively portray Santa Claus and his message of giving and good will towards others.  With the struggles and tragedies of 2012 this message needs to resonate more than ever.    



  1. Thanks Bill for the lesson in history and philanthropy. I did not know the origins of Santa. Christmas and Santa have indeed gone far afield from the original concept of giving to those less fortunate.

    With all that has happened recently, there are many who need Christmas and Santa to be returned to their essence. I am very proud to be involved with one project that attempts to uphold that essence,

    In addition, there is a blog post on Digital Ethos that I have continued to update, in the comments, with relevant info for those in need and for those who can give,

    It is amazing that you have tied marketing, branding and PR with Santa and Christmas in a meaningful manner. I applaud you for removing Santa from Madison Avenue and returning him to his rightful place at the North Pole. Happy Holidays and all the best.

  2. Good points, Bill. It seem Madison Avenue wants to co-opt Santa for all types of ads, such as the Mercedes pulling the “Mercedes” sleigh. Shame it is so far from the original intent of the Santa legend.

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