25 Oct 2021

The Lighter Side... Did Coca-Cola invent Father Christmas?

Coke Santa

Coca-Cola advertising is everywhere at Christmas.  Many of you will have been feverishly printing off Coca-Cola reds in Pantone 485, and then making sure that red is perfect. Unfortunately for you, that Pantone reference is actually wrong.  In fact, Coca-Cola red historically has no Pantone reference; it is the company's own spot colour.

According to rumour, Coca-Cola's printed packaging only ever gets printed using that exact spot colour.  The company does not want the 4-colour CMYK printing process dithering or deviating from the impact of that pure bold Coca-Cola red.  Alas, in wide format inkjet sign and display printing we don't have the luxury of special spot colours, so we'll just have to continue matching until the Coca-Cola man says 'yes'.

OK, enough about that.  The Lighter Side story this week is actually about Coca‑Cola’s iconic vision of Santa Claus as a jolly looking gentleman in a red coat with a white beard, dressed entirely in the aforementioned Coca-Cola red.

So is it true that The Coca-Cola Company invented the all-in-red Santa Claus?

Today, it's widely believed that Santa wears this red suit because that’s the colour associated with Coca‑Cola, but this isn’t the case. Before the Coca‑Cola Santa was even created, St Nick had appeared in numerous illustrations and written descriptions wearing a scarlet coat. However, it is true that Coca‑Cola advertising played a big role in shaping the jolly, rotund character we know and love today.

This is thanks to Haddon Sundblom, the Swedish-American artist who created the world-renowned image of Santa Claus we recognise today.  In 1931, Coca‑Cola commissioned Sundblom to paint Santa Claus for the company's Christmas adverts. Prior to this, Santa had been portrayed in a variety of ways throughout history: tall and gaunt; short and elfin; distinguished and intellectual; even downright frightening.

Sundblom’s paintings for Coca‑Cola established Santa as a warm, happy character with human features such as rosy cheeks, a white beard, twinkling eyes and laughter lines. This grandfather-style Coca‑Cola Santa captivated the public and, as Coca-Cola adverts spread globally, the perception of the North Pole’s most-famous resident changed forever.

Since first appearing in adverts in US titles including The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal and National Geographic in 1931, and then subsequently appearing on festive billboards the world over, Sundblom’s ‘Coca‑Cola Santa’ has certainly passed the test of time, evoking memories and a holiday spirit that transcends national boundaries.

“The Santa Claus illustrated by Haddon Sundblom is remarkable for several reasons, most notably because of the way the artist captured the essence of Saint Nicholas,” said Ted Ryan, Manager of The Coca‑Cola Company Archives.  “Sundblom didn’t simply paint a costumed character; he made Santa a human being graced with the gift of immortality, and a physical manifestation of Christmas that was destined to endure.”

Sundblom’s Santa had such universal appeal that, as Coca‑Cola and its legendary holiday adverts continued to spread globally, the character born of Sundblom’s brush became an established international icon.  The one that we can all identify with today.

Coke Santa2