Santa Claus (2)

If we rewind five, fifteen, even fifty years, December is the prime time that brands would air their adverts, taking over our televisions to let us know that Christmas is fast approaching. Whether guiding his famous reindeer, delivering presents or wriggling down a chimney or two, there was one festive icon that was always present in every brand’s seasonal advert, and a key player in pretty much all year-end marketing campaigns…Father Christmas.

Last year, the British public voted for the most memorable Christmas ad of all time and Coca-Cola’s classic 1992, ‘Holidays are Coming’ offering topped the charts. Coca Cola is one brand that has stayed true to its traditional Christmas marketing and advertising roots since the beginning.

So with the undeniable popularity, why are brands now choosing to replace the well-loved, and arguably most recognised festive figure of Father Christmas with the likes of Mog the Cat, Monty the Penguin and The Man on the Moon? And what effect is this having on the sentiment of the campaigns and furthermore, the brands themselves?

One brand that took the death of Santa a bit too literally this year was online payment provider, PayPal. The brand received a mass of unwanted attention from the Advertising Standards Authority after being bombarded with complaints from angry viewers claiming the TV ad was ruining Christmas for children. The advert, which shows parents using the payment service to shop online accompanied by the strapline ‘Check out before they know it’, suggests that parents are the ones buying Christmas gifts and therefore implies that Santa is fictional.

Although other brands have yet to go as far as PayPal in the bid to brush off Santa, many have already replaced the jolly red gent with alternative characters in a bid to cash in on sales of merchandise relating to their adverts. Last year we saw Monty the Penguin hit our screens, a clever marketing tactic that earned creator John Lewis millions in sales after pricing the largest stuffed replica toy at £95 and selling out in under 24 hours.

It’s clear from the public’s reaction to the PayPal advert that the idea of completely ‘killing off’ Santa remains unacceptable and somewhat tarnishes the traditional western ideology of the festive season. The Christmas advertising market is always going to remain competitive and although a sure-fire way to stand out from the crowd, attempting to be too controversial will always have risks. In order to create the perfect balance, brands should choose campaigns that reflect their brand messaging, voice and values, whilst also considering what Christmas means to their customers.

By Heidi Myers, marketing and communications director EMEA, Meltwater