How Coca-Cola helped shape the modern-day Santa
December 15th, 2011
10:30 AM ET
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Where did the iconic Santa Claus imagery we have all come to know - red suit, pleasantly plump, flowing white beard, rosy cheeks - come from? Turns out, Coca-Cola's advertising program was more than a little helper in the modern interpretation of Saint Nick.

Eatocracy talked with Phil Mooney, the Coca-Cola Company's Vice President for Heritage Communications (also known as the “in demand Santa man”), to get the lowdown on the how the jolly man came to life.

Eatocracy: What is Coca-Cola’s connection with the modern-day Santa Claus?

Mooney: Coca-Cola had an artist named Haddon Sundblom who worked for us from 1931 to 1964. Each year he would create an advertising piece that would show Coca-Cola and Santa Claus and because the ads appeared in all of the popular magazines of the day, his interpretation became the American vision of what Santa Claus looked like.

Eatocracy: What were the paintings based on?

Mooney: The essence of the paintings were based on Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas” Prior to Sundblom’s depiction, there were various interpretations of Santa in the mainstream media. In some depictions, he was a dwarf-like character, in others he was full-bodied but did not enjoy what he was doing. So that is where Sundblom built on the poem and created the happy Santa Claus who loves what he is doing, loves children, pets and has a bit of mischievousness in his character. He is the embodiment of the holiday - of a time to be with your family and friends.

Eatocracy: What was Coke’s purpose in using Santa?

Mooney: In 1931, Coca-Cola was trying to convince consumers that Coke could be consumed in the winter months as well as the summer months. Coke decided to be associated with the holidays by advertising Coke for the holidays. So the character of Santa was chosen because he has to go around the world in one evening and he is definitely going to get thirsty. So the campaign shows Santa pausing during the evening to enjoy a Coke.

Eatocracy: What happened to the original paintings?

Mooney: They are part of the company’s collection of art. Some are displayed at the World of Coke and some are at the Woodruff Arts Center, both located in Atlanta.

This actual campaign ended in 1964 and Sundblom died in 1976, but each Christmas season Coke still uses a piece of his art so the original Santa promotional pieces continue the tradition today.

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Filed under: Bite • Christmas • Culture • Holidays

soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Lars J

    Haddon Sundblom, like most illustrators of his day, got a small payment for his art. The company kept the originals and he got none of the licensing residuals. Now conservative business interests are pushing for an end to regulations that would protect, even to a small degree, artists today. The goal is to make the corporation the artist, and the actual artist to be a legal non-factor, even non-existant.

    December 17, 2011 at 4:00 am |
    • Ron

      Oh yes, EVERYTHING in the universe MUST be tied to your world view of hating "the man". Jeez I feel sorry for you. What a sad bitter little man.

      December 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
      • Paul

        Ron, I couldn't have said it better. Hopefully he doesn't win the lottery or he'd be peeved now that he'd need a new wallet.

        December 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  2. Thanks Matt for Recommending the link

    At least this article came with a premise I understand thanks to " Matt " I think it was on facebook. And no I am not. Seriuosly though I cant resist some things. And yes think what you want santa theirs no connection. However coca cola has the most recognizability in the communist world due to the brand being around the longest and thats where I would draw a connection. whats the problem with everyone at wordpress being the editors not allowing anyone real to post comments its sad that you are all this pathetic. I feel sorry for anyone that filters any comment I truly do.

    December 17, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  3. Davinia

    I love coca-cola, so with the 2011 celebration of the holidays and the 2012 New Year, I raise my bottle of coke and courtesy to Mr. Nast and Mr. Sandblom for their dual visions that the world celebrate each day and especially during the holiday season. 3 Hip, Hip, Hip Hoorays!

    December 16, 2011 at 6:55 am |
  4. Jill

    Santa's suit was originally green-until Coca-Cola started running ads with him in a red suit.

    December 16, 2011 at 4:55 am |
  5. cpc65

    Santa has diabetes? Damn you high fructose corn syrup sweetened beverages!

    December 16, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  6. Chris

    What a lie coke didnt create this image. They stole it from an earlier artist Thomas Nast. Yes the same Thomas Nast who gave us the Image of Uncle Sam. He drew Santa based on the German and Dutch traditions of his homeland. He created the image of Santa before 20 years before coke was even created. Year after year an article like this pops up and puts even more young kids on the bandwagon. If coke really wanted to create an image maybe they should thin santa down a little and take the coke out of his hand.

    December 15, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Ron

      Chris, lots of artists had various ideas of what Santa looked like. But the Coke version got the massive exposure to make this particular version stick. That is the point of the article.

      December 20, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  7. Blessed Geek

    "How Coca-Cola shaped the modern-day Santa" – by making him fat and out of shape with lots of sugary drinks.

    December 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • mikengermany

      Ah, these designs came out way waaaay before being fat was what it is today (acceptable and defended). Back then a coke was a luxury due to income levels.

      December 16, 2011 at 3:45 am |
  8. Roland

    It's depressing how much of our culture is defined by sales campaigns from huge corporations.

    December 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • bruce gossett

      WHERE IS SANTA???????????PLEASE!!!!!!!!!! AND WHY?

      December 15, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
      • bruce gossett


        December 15, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Heather

      Yup, then check out another story on CNN talking about keeping Santa "real" to your children. Heaven forbid I told my children about St Nicholas (the real person). I stole the magic of childhood from them because I didn't try to convince them that an advertising icon was the true meaning of the season. Next thing you know, I'm going to be catching it because I didn't tell my kids that the Lucky Charms mascot leaves them chocolate coins on St Patrick's Day.

      December 16, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  9. Josie

    As much as this Santa still reminds me of what Santa was as a kid, I now like the more traditional looking ones...that and knowing the history of any traditional symbol is actually rather neat.

    December 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  10. hardhead

    The Coke distributor in Jackson, Tennessee treat their employees like crap.

    December 15, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Captain Obviousman

      Then treat them better.

      December 15, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • I.C. Colors

      Start selling Crack then. Or Mountain Dew.

      December 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • crazycatman

      So who cares, besides you? A personal (and irrelevant) gripe doesn't really belong on a worldwide message board.

      December 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  11. Extremophil

    Thomas Nast created the modern day image of Santa. Coke just capitalized on it and claimed the credit.

    December 15, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • jdevil1735

      Exactly and Thomas Nast lived in Morristown NJ where he also created the Republican elephant and the Democrat donkey. It would be nice if the article could give proper due.

      December 15, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  12. Kevin

    Got a good laugh out of this story. I was Christmas shopping one day with my 13 year-old nephew, and he noticed a silver coin that had Santa on the front, He said to me, "Hey look, it's the Coca-Cola guy!" It made my whole day. I was like, yeah, or sometime referred to as Santa Claus.

    December 15, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Timmy

      13? Man, I'm sorry...poor retarded kid.

      December 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  13. Manny

    Coca-Cola shaped Santa made him get fat.

    December 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Julio

      Nawww....He's been eating too much GOOD Tex-Mex food.

      December 15, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Josh

      No, it was all those reindeer burgers.

      December 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
      • Geeezzzz

        mmmmmm reindeer burgers...add cheese to mine please.

        December 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Billy

      Yeah, don't forget the Cookies and Milk !!

      December 16, 2011 at 3:58 am |
    • Schmedley

      I bet Mrs. Clause dresses him up in pink panitez and bra and makes him howl like a dog. Baaroooorooooroooo!

      December 16, 2011 at 7:12 am |
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