Iconic Santa

26 December 2022

 Santa Claus is a legendary character who brings gifts to children. St. Nicholas of Myra (now known as Demre, Turkey), was a bishop famous for his compassion for the poor and particularly, children. His philanthropy became so legendary that it inspired others all over the world at Christmas.

A standardized visual image of Santa Claus started shaping up in the 1860s, when American political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, created sketches for a New York publication. Many of the early depictions displayed Santa Claus visiting the military troops during the Civil War. His illustrations were instrumental in establishing the present-day image of Santa Claus as a jolly, bearded man in a fur-laden hat.

However, in the earliest illustrations of Santa Claus, his suit was in green colour. These illustrations appeared in the 1863 edition in Harper’s Weekly, a political magazine, under the heading, “A Christmas Furlough.”

A Tree-mendous renewal

Since the 1920s, Coca-Cola began placing its Christmas ads in popular magazines which depicted a department-store man dressed as Santa, relaxing with a bottle of Coke drawn by Fred Mizen. However, the advertising agency working with the company, wanted the campaign to have a version of Santa Claus which was realistic as well as symbolic.

Thereafter in 1931, the company commissioned, Haddon Sundblom (Sundblom) a Dutch illustrator, to re-illustrate Santa Claus for its festive marketing campaigns. Sundblom took inspiration, from Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (which is often referred to as "The Night Before Christmas" after its famous first line) and came up with the present-day versions of Santa, with his signature red velvet vest and white beard (red and white being Coca-Cola’s signature colours.) This image of Santa gained popularity in the United States and Canada which was reinforced through songs, radio and television broadcasts, children's books, films and advertising.

In the U.S. alone, there are approximately 150+ records at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) for active and inactive registrations/applications for “Santa" or a variation thereof. However, the use of the image of Santa has become so widespread that it is not sure that it functions as a source identifier or protectable under the US Trademark Laws in isolation. As a result, most trademark registrations in the U.S. include not only the image of Santa, but other elements such as words or other graphical elements which together might be distinctive or protectable as a trademark or service mark. Nevertheless, the US Copyright Law provides for the protection for artistic works of Santa Claus.

Similarly in India, there are several registrations for ‘SANTA CLAUS’ and variations thereof being used for various goods. For example, “” and “” in respect of readymade garments, headgear and footwear; “SANTACLAUS” for liquor; “santa claus” for chewing tobacco and “Santa” for incense sticks.

Creating a brand image: : Lessons to learn

While it is true that Coca Cola did not invent the concept of Santa Claus however, they cemented their version of Santa as the epitome of Christmas making him universal on cards, books, movies and TV shows.

The idea of connecting Santa Claus with the brand's identity was a big risk for the company whose main product not exactly what people may prefer in winters.

However, Santa Claus matched perfectly with Coca Cola’s sense of respect for the past and for family traditions and this is why the link between Christmas holidays and Coca-Cola was a great success.

To create a successful brand, it is important to be aware of the long-term values and the reputation you would like to build with your target audience. Once this is clear, creators should allow the brand to speak for itself and be the ambassador of such values.

In the digital era, companies often rely on social media to position their brand the way they want it to be seen. However, taken by the impulse to upload more content in less time, one should never forget about the centrality of IP protection which is valuable in conferring a better control over one’s brand and prevent infringement

Hence, knowledge of Intellectual Property is necessary for everyone in almost every sphere of life and that, nothing should be considered as cost-free; even Santa comes with a Clause


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