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Yuletise branding

By The Drum, Administrator

December 18, 2003 | 5 min read

If you are a “forty-something”, some of your earliest memories of Christmas may be the Coca-Cola Santa Claus adverts. Certainly, they filled me with anticipation and warm feelings whenever I saw the juxtaposition of a jolly red Santa and my favourite drink.

Indeed, it is a little-known fact that the modern image of Santa was actually created by a Coca-Cola advertising consultant called Haddon Sundbloom in the 30s. It is a wonderful example of brand association – Coca Cola, Christmas, celebration, children, goodwill – and, like all good brands, Coca Cola and the Santa image have stood the test of time (this ad campaign lasted for 35 years).

It is no coincidence that this was such a powerful campaign, for to associate with Christmas is to associate with the season of goodwill. Of course, this is page one of the “Janet and John” school of branding but it is worth considering what “goodwill” means in the corporate world. The accountant’s definition of goodwill is, simply calculated, the difference between the purchase price of a company and the net value of assets acquired. Also known as intangible assets, it covers a golden triangle of future profitability, intellectual capital and reputation or brand value.

The staggering thing is just how much value lies in these intangibles. Santa’s favourite, Coca-Cola, estimates that its brand value amounts to some 96 per cent of its overall value. If this is the case, then it is clear that the brand is very likely the most valuable asset a company has – and yet how many have a clear brand development and management strategy? Most companies who invested in a physical asset worth even just 10 per cent of their book value would almost certainly have a whole department looking after it, giving it a significant investment in time to ensure that the asset was used to best effect.

So how do you develop and manage a brand? Let’s examine that great brand – Santa Claus. There are three ways in which Santa manages his brand:


Santa has a clear vision of what he has to achieve each year. He and his elves have to ensure children all over the world are brought happiness and cheer on 25 December every year – some deadline! The vision for Santa and his team is clear, compelling, unifying and is certainly challenging. Note that he has a real vision, not a bland corporate vision statement like:

“To deliver best-in-class products to under 16s on a global scale in Q4.”

The best corporate visions are not one-liners. Think of a vision as a “story” of the future and it should be at least a page long before you even think of distilling it into a summary.

To be most effective, ask yourself if your vision is clear, compelling, unifying and challenging.


Santa may be the iconic leader of the Christmas multinational but his operations at the North Pole and Lapland (distribution centre) are a team effort. No matter how strong the vision is, he has to have a team that has bought into that vision and has the right attitude to deliver it. His team’s success is based on the values of dedication, good cheer, hard work, care for each other and a ruthless adherence to a deadline.

The values and culture of an organisation form the bridge between its vision and its customers. However, beware of trying to establish a set of values by committee. This will often lead to the lowest common denominator. Some of the strongest corporate values are established by a founder or a small team of partners or senior directors. The company must then ensure these values are incentivised through appraisals and reward schemes and reinforced by recruitment and induction.


Could there be a more evocative and consistent image than that of Santa Claus? Red suit, white beard, sleigh, reindeer, elves – it is striking, consistently applied, well designed (remember Mr Sundbloom) and, most importantly, the image suggested by the visuals is backed up by performance. He always delivers on time, he always has a jolly disposition and he constantly listens to his stakeholders (think of all those letters).

A strong image is a combination of a well-designed brand identity, a clear understanding of your stakeholders and consistent communication involving ongoing two-way dialogue. It should also be backed up by performance, and the only way you know how you are performing is by listening to feedback.

Finally, Santa knows he has to work at the brand continually. The whole of January is generally a performance review meeting with the elves, and during this process particular emphasis is put on examining whether the vision, culture and image are all still in alignment. This Brand Development Workshop is normally facilitated to ensure objectivity is maintained and that a firm action plan results.

May we wish the readers of the Drum much goodwill this festive season and during 2004. We hope that you can become as successful a global brand as Santa Claus.

What’s that? You say you don’t believe in him?

Just remember that intangibles hold the most value!


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