The Problematic use of Santa Claus by Coca-Cola

The Problematic use of Santa Claus by Coca-Cola

The origins of Santa Claus are from a line of Saints who loved children and evidenced it by gifting them for their good deeds. The physical image is Santa Claus has changed over time and is refined in the modern world to represent a fat and big man with a red coat riding in a sleigh going around giving children gifts during Christmas eve. Despite all these changes, what has been consistent is the fact that Santa has always appealed to the children and is their icon especially during the Christmas period. Coca-Cola adopted the use of Santa Claus in its advertisements in 1931 and it has increased its sales during the winter but that has come with the challenge of a problematic appropriation of the tradition of Santa Claus. The use of Santa in Coca-Cola advertising has promoted the unhealthy drink to the children despite the commitment of the company not to advertise to children under 14 years.

Inspiration Behind Santa Claus

The lineage of Santa Claus is traced back to a monk named St. Nicholas who was born around 280 A.D. His stories are centered around giving and kindness to children. He had a feat day on December 6th that was considered a good day to have a feast or get married. He lived in present-day Turkey and at one point was the most popular saint in Europe (Bowler35). Contrary to his depiction today, St. Nicholas was a thing, had a short beard, and wore priestly robes and not red. The other source of inspiration for the story was from St. Nick who was popular in Holland and got the nickname, Sinter Klaas (Bowler35). He also wore bishop robes and went around the country seeking out the children who had been good. After the protestant reformation, the gift-giving date changed from 6th to Christmas eve. Sinter Klaas crossed the Atlantic to celebrate the feast in New York and Pennsylvania and this was where the tradition was born in the USA. In New York, Sinter Klaas was described to wear a blue hat, yellow stockings, and has a broad-brimmed hat with Flemish trunk shows. In this case too, not similar to Santa Claus.

The connection to the sleigh driven by Santa Claus is derived from the story of the German God Odin. The legend has it that he rode across the sky on an eight-legged horse. The concept was carried along when Germany was Christianised but the god Odin was left behind. However, the sleigh is not similar to present-day Santa’s (Bowler35).

Americans accepted this folklore as their own in the 19th century as evidenced by the poem by Clement Clarke Moore titles “Twas The Night Before Christmas” in 1822. It was about a visit by St. Nicholas and gave the modern description of Santa Claus. It became popular and gave Americans an icon to believe in. In the poem, Santa was portrayed as a portly elf with eight reindeers pulling his sleigh. This poem inspired the depictions of Santa Claus by Thomas Nast in 1863 (Bowler41). Thomas Nast created what is seen as the modern-day Santa Claus, He gave Santa the red suit, beard, potbelly, and a pipe.

The Entry of Coca-Cola in the Picture

Coca-Cola started using Santa in their adverts in 1931 with its lead artist Haddon Sundblom.  Coca-cola was looking to improve its sales in the winter, which was a slow period for the product (Balakrishnan). The artist made one major change to the image by replacing the pipe with the Coca-Cola bottle. This new Santa Claus created also looked less strict and was more into children and family. While the image of Santa Claus was not created entirely by Coca Cola, it was however reinforced and popularised by Coca-cola. This figure was reinforced and used all over the country until it became associated with the company. Years after its first use, Santa-Claus became synonymous with Coca-Cola until people speculated that they had originated the idea or owned the rights to the image (Balakrishnan). Coca-cola has been using the image every year to appeal to the sale of Coca-cola during the summer but more so appealing to the children. Eventually, it has made the children and younger people a major market for soft drinks especially Coca-Cola.

The Problematic Use of Santa-Claus by Coca-Cola

The biggest problem with the use of Santa Claus in the Coca-Cola advertisement is that it breaks its marketing policies because of this. Santa Claus is synonymous with children and younger people because of the original ST. Nicholas was a gift-giver to the children. This image of Santa-Claus is closely associated with children under the ages of 13 in the country and all over the world.

Coca-Cola, on the other hand, sells a fizzy drink that contains lots of sugars that are associated with weight gain, tooth decay, heart disease, and diabetes. The company is intended to increase its sales has therefore adopted a celebrity that appeals to children (Jacobson 24). The media that it has used to advertise such as the internet, billboards, games, sports events television among others are the media easily accessible to children (Crawford 59).  Further, Coca-Cola has continued to sponsor and endorse toys, films, and sports teams which are children’s favorites. Therefore, in their advertising, it is clear that they are targeting to get the market of younger children.

Coca-Cola marketing policies bar marketing of their products directly to children under 12 years. The company recognized the negative effects of its products on children and wanted to stay away from causing children harm. The reality in using Santa in the adverts goes opposite to the company’s commitment. The company has also committed to not using celebrities who do not directly appeal to children under 12 years (Jacobson 12). The reality is however that the majority of the Santa Claus fans are children under the age of 12.  Santa Claus is advertising to younger children all over the world and it makes the company go against its pledge. One more policy within Coca-Cola marketing is that it wouldn’t favor advertising the drink within school premises especially the primary schools. The reality on the ground is that Coca-Cola Adverts are in or close to primary schools all over the world (Crawford 59). Coca-Cola is even sponsoring primary school sporting events and sells some of the drinks inside the schools though not in the US.

Such kinds of similar complaints have been reported in the past by a coalition of 21 public health organizations in Auckland. They made a petition to the Advertising Standards Authority about a billboard showing Santa with two coke bottles and a peace sign. The billboard was located near two schools. The Advertising board agreed that Coca-Cola is an occasional food and should be targeted to the younger children (Jacobson 24). The coalition was also against the fact that Coca-Cola was using a celebrity who appealed greatly to children and younger people despite the negative effects of the drinks on them.

It is therefore clear that Coca-Cola has taken a delightful tradition that was used for kindness and gifts to good children and commercialized it for the wrong. The intention for St. Nicholas was to ensure that well-behaved children received gifts and this meant that they are well behaved even with their diets. Coca-Cola therefore has broken this tradition by introducing the children to a fizzy drink that has negative effects on their bodies and health. Effectively, the company has problematically appropriated this tradition.

Remedies to the Problem

In light of the problematic appropriation done by Coca-Cola, some recommendations will help them from decolonizing our young generation. The company should immediately stop selling or advertising its sugary drinks within secondary and primary schools. It should also include resistance from sponsoring these school events, creating vending machines, and giving rewards (Jacobson 37). It should also extend its advertising in media sources which have an audience of 25% or fewer children under the ages of 14. Next, they should remove all their billboards, posters, and other forms of adverts in children’s parks, recreation centers, boys and girls clubs, and other places that have a majority audience of children.  The company should also stop selling their logo-emblazoned clothing, toys, and other children merchandise (Jacobson 35). And more so, they should desist from using Santa Claus who is a celebrity that most appeals to the younger children. It should further speak to any other celebrity with good followership of children.


Santa-Claus is American folklore that has transcended time and generations. It is a popular narrative in media, literature, and reality. It is inspired by a season of giving and appreciating disciplined children. However, since it was adopted by Coca-Cola for advertising, it has promoted the fizzy drinks to children. The Coca-Cola drink is associated with unhealthy children and other heart and diabetic conditions. While Coca-cola have committed not to directly advertise their drink to children under the ages of 14, the use of Santa Claus appeals to children and makes them fail on their promise.

For more information



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *