THE SANTA CAUSE
Every year, some agency comes out with poll results about the world’s most recognizable brands. By now, we all know who to expect will top this list: Nike, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola. Sometimes, depending on the audience, we get a few new names thrown in the mix (X-Box, Abercrombie & Fitch, Facebook), but mostly they’re tried and true, based on marketplace dominance.
So why, then, has Santa Claus gone missing from these results? Arguably, the most recognized character in the world, outside of Jesus personified (yes, really), Santa has brand strength companies only dream about. Though the name changes as you travel the world - St. Nicholas, Pere de Noel, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Sinter Klaas and more - the brand story stays intact: a “jolly” old man wearing red rewards his target audience of the world’s well-behaved youth with gifts he delivers once a year all over the globe. A consistent tale married to a familiar image: ultimate brand recognition markers if there ever were.
And Santa is so smart, he’s even licensed out his brand, employing scores of institutions, organizations, and individuals to act as ambassadors on behalf of his mission: ringing bells collecting for charity, listening to kids’ requests in malls, collecting toys for the less fortunate…all further strengthening the image and identity that is the Santa Brand.
Acting on a story with emotional ties, over the years, the extensions of the brand have gained popularity on their own, while still remaining a positive connection to the original product. We only think Rudolph’s overcoming his self-esteem issues is cool because of his service to the old man, and the elves were just a non-unionized team of laborers until their devotion to their yearly cause was highlighted in so many animated holiday specials.
Santa is no slouch when it comes to staying in sync with the times, either. While he’ll still accept letters via the old snail-mail method, nowadays, kids can reach out to Mr. C through email and text, follow him on Facebook and Twitter, and even track his Christmas Eve moves with an app! Like any great brand, Santa stays in touch with his audience, giving them access to engage and create community around his cause.
Indeed, Santa’s brand ties run deep, entrenched into the very fibers of societal culture and beliefs. Besides being a multi-dare we say-trillion dollar money machine, the Santa Brand dictates the way in which families relate to one another (just think, the myth of Santa is the “little white lie” told to children over and over by adults), the flow of the retail marketplace, topical media coverage and the importance of being nice vs. naughty. What other brand is as powerful? Take note.