Santa, as spoiler
By Michael Berland
Published December 21, 2009
Q: What accounts for the fat guy’s success as an enduring, worldwide symbol of the holiday? The quirky suit? The fawning elves? The antlered entourage? How often do unlikely figures catch fire and seize the popular imagination?
If Christmas were my client, I’d unequivocally advise keeping Santa on as the face of the operation. Here’s why:
For starters, kids like Santa Claus because he is the “good” bad parent.
Real parents must set boundaries, know when to say yes and when to say no, so our children become moral and well-behaved people. Real parents would be doing the world a disservice if we did not set boundaries and punish kids when necessary.
But Santa, while he watches over kids and knows that kids are capable of being both naughty and nice, has never been known to carry through on the threat of that lump of coal.
Santa’s slogan is pretty much just “yes, yes, yes” in the form of “ho, ho, ho!” He is always benign, and approachable-lap-sitting is his main value-added feature.
For those of us lucky enough to have known our grandparents, we can recognize that Santa fulfills a lot of the grandparent job description, but in a more vibrant, uncomplicated way: He spoils you.
And that’s why parents, consumers, like him too. Because as parents, we can hide behind the myth to spoil our kids in a way that we know isn’t good for them and that we don’t have to take responsibility for: “Nope, I didn’t buy that ridiculously expensive gadget that my child had the tantrum over — Santa did it!”
We can even spoil ourselves — playing both roles, as seen in the popular Santa pub crawls throughout the country where people go bar-hopping dressed in stiff red -and-white, fake-fur costumes.
Santa is a timeless icon, yet there’s no worry about him aging so much that no one will find him attractive, which is a risk with other spokesmodels. In fact, Santa is as old as can be and people love him that way, precisely because he keeps everybody feeling pretty young by comparison — who doesn’t feel like a kid when Santa’s around?
Moreover, Santa has cornered the market on the adjective “jolly” — no one can use that word, even in mid-summer, without conjuring Santa. His red and white colors help the jolly factor, something obviously not lost on another of the world’s most successful brands: Coca-Cola.
Santa is successful as a brand in part because modern-day society needs him; his existence and his persona facilitate the commercialization of Christmas. Without him and the lore of the reindeer, Christmas would be another religious holiday.
Word from the North Pole is he’s becoming a real mentor to the Easter Bunny.