Monday, December 20, 2004

Santa and the Power of Branding

There’s an interesting article over at (actually, a lot of them, but this one in particular this time of year) about the history of Santa. It arrives there because people have heard in, urban legend style, that it was the early advertising of Coca-Cola that gave us the image we currently have of the big guy, red hat, red suit, black boots, white beard, etc…

It turns out that Santa Claus has been around, in various forms, for a long, long, time. Mostly in the 1800’s. His name is derived indirectly from “St Nicholas”, from a dutch rhyme about “Sinterklaas”.

It wasn’t until 1823 that Clement Moore’s "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas" (more commonly known today by its opening line, "'Twas the night before Christmas . . .") was published. That, more than anything else, cemented in people’s minds what Santa looked like and the way that he did things.

By the 1930’s various illustrators and poets had each added their bits to the overall tradition (he didn’t live at the North Pole until almost 1870).

It was then that, under the direction of Coca Cola, Haddon Sundblom painted a series of magazine and point-of-sale ads that depicted a full-sized, chubby, red and white clad old man with the white beard that we know so well today. Read the snopes article for the full details sometime. Very interesting.

So, while Coke might not have invented it, they had a big role in the image and the way it was cemented into popular culture. They played a big part in branding in our minds what Santa looks like.

So, why am I going on about all that in an article about business? Especially as one who generally decries the rampant commercialism of Christmas? Because it shows very clearly the power of branding advertising. I would be hard-pressed to find a company who has more effectively utilized branding advertising in their overall marketing scheme than Coca-Cola.

What is branding advertising? It’s any advertising that doesn’t expect an immediate response. It’s any advertisement whose primary purpose is to seal in your mind the name and image of a product. That way, when you’re in a store, and you walk past the product on the shelf, your reaction is positive, even possibly eagerness to have it. You think, “Oh, yeah, I heard about that!” and you pick it up and buy it.

Almost all of television advertising is fundamentally branding. They don’t expect you to leap from your seat and rush immediately to the store and buy something. But they do expect that you will later on. That’s the payoff.

Unfortunately, many online advertisers don’t see the power of branding advertising. It’s strong stuff. It’s what makes product names into household words. But all to often online advertisers don’t see past the clickthroughs. They get so fixated on the immediately measurable statistics of the direct results of their ads, that they don’t imagine that there could be more long-term results. These branded results might be less measurable, but they are definitely not less powerful. Quite the opposite.

I mean, Coca-Cola did it with Santa. They do it everytime someone in a movie cracks open a can of Coke. They’ve done it so well that they actually have people paying them for the privilege of being walking branding advertising. Everytime someone buys a Coke T-Shirt or purse, they’re paying money to advertise for Coke. Go figure, eh?

The challenge with branding advertising is that it is more long-term in its results. You have to advertise lots and lots, and with consistency, in front of lots of people. The more you do that, the more it pays off in recognition and branding.

No comments:

Post a Comment