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Bad uses of Santa Claus in advertising: Lucky Strike, Harley Davidson, Eveready Flashlights, Greenpeace

It has become part of advertising lore that in the 1930s Coca-Cola turned the colour of Santa’s outfit from green to red. In reality, Coca-Cola were not the first to use his red and white image but their popularisation of Santa Claus made him a usual suspect in Christmas advertising. However, not every ad he has put his face to has spread Christmas cheer. The Drum gives you an alternative take on the Santa advert from the tasteless to the confusing.

Harley Davidson Christmas Advert

Now before we begin, we get that this is meant to be an alternative take on the Santa Claus figure, but did they really need to make him a terrifying figure dressed in black wearing a skull mask and cracking a whip at his herd of motorcycles? This scared us, never mind any small child you happens to come across this while waiting up late to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Anyone of a nervous disposition please avoid this.

Lucky Strike

This 1936 Lucky Strike advert is undoubtedly of its time. Even though it could never be used today, their brazen use of a St Nick to promote Lucky Strike cigarettes still has the shock factor. A front-runner in the bad taste award.

Greenpeace (suggested by Jeremy Garner, ECD of Weapon7)

I’m not sure if it’s the best or worst use of Santa, but it’s definitely the most disturbing use of Santa. Watch it from behind a chair like you did Doctor Who when you were five. Hold your hands in front of your face and dare to peep through your fingers at the sheer horror of it all and the prospect of your Christmas being shattered. The bits when there’s a close-up of Santa’s face and you can spot actual pieces of turkey in his beard are truly frightening. But, in all seriousness, it's a lateral, unexpected and intelligent angle on tackling an important and urgent issue.

Eveready Flashlights

The creepiness of this 1950s torch advert is probably unrivaled. Santa is not the jolly red-cheeked chap we know and love, instead the stuff of nightmares. If anything, these ads show just how thin a line it is between making the jolly old man seem particularly creepy.


Vintage adverts are a goldmine for questionable use of Santa. Here, he is used to emphasise that every woman wants to find a Toastmaster under the Christmas tree. See another example below that would likely deliver a slap to the face, should their advice be heeded.


See above - and do not buy anyone for a Christmas present - ouch!

The T. Eaton catagloue

We're not sure if it's just the artwork here - but yet another example of an old man you wouldn't like to find climbing through your front window on Christmas Eve. Scary.

Betabrand Christmas Window Display

Look away if you plan on eating lunch today. This grotesque depiction of Santa was proudly displayed in a Betabrand Store in San Francisco and was titled Santa the Hutt, inspired by the infamous Star Wars crime lord.