18/02/2020 Communication Science news and articles

I’m dreaming of a Coke Christmas

Looking for a new activity during the Holidays? Rita looked into the relation between Christmas, a famous soft drink and a large truck.

John Pemberton’s late 19th century creation of an (originally) cocaine containing remedy for many conditions, including morphine addictions, has become synonymous with the so called, most wonderful time of the year. The only question left to ask: How??

In the late 19th century, John Stith Pemberton created a drink to attempt to cure his addiction to morphine, courtesy of an injury he suffered during the American Civil War. This creation later developed into what we know as “Coca-Cola”, named after two of its original ingredients: Coca leaves (used until 1903), which contained a perhaps familiar psychoactive substance-commonly known as cocaine – and Kola nuts

Though the drink had interesting claims with headaches and certain addictions, Pemberton didn’t foresee a long-term success with his creation. Today, it’s impossible to imagine a world without Coca-Cola, or even yet, a world without a Coca-Cola Christmas campaign.

The famous man in red
Let’s get it out of the way. No, Santa Claus was not invented by Coca-Cola and no, the red clothes were not a creation by the Coke company; Santa has been rocking the red since the early 19th century.  Now that the myth has been busted, allow me to guide you through the creation of the jolly man.

Santa has been depicted in various forms over the years. Saint Nick has been portrayed from an elven man to a happy man with a large belly. The most modern image of Santa is actually mostly credited to Thomas Nast, a cartoonist from the 19th century. So where does Coca-Cola come into play?

Cue the Santa the world knows and loves.

Originally targeting adults who were looking for a pick-me up, Coke decided that it was time for a change. In the 1930’s, Coca-Cola was determined to expand their target audience and bring their carbonated drink to people’s homes and to their entire family. Cue the Santa the world knows and loves.

Inspired by the poem “A visit from St. Nicholas”, and using a Salesman friend as a model, Haddon Sundblom, an American artist of Scandinavian descent, created the wholesome image of St. Nick that Coca-Cola sought after. In 1931, his image was all over printed in numerous magazines, including the New Yorker and the National Geographic. This marked the start of a long-lasting career of over three decades, of creating the father of Christmas. 

The images were beloved by many, even making their way into the heart of the famous Louvre, where Sunblom’s creations were exhibited.

Spreading Christmas Joy (and carbonated drinks) in a truck
In 1995, the now classic advertisement with the Christmas trucks, featuring special effects from the same company that worked on Star-wars, hit the small screens. 

By 1998, the Christmas truck advertisement was being viewed in over 100 countries. 

Finally, in 2001, history was made, as the trucks, with Sundblom’s nostalgic image, finally drove out of the screen and into the hearts of United States’ citizens. A truck tour across the country brought the feelings of joy and peace from the advertisement directly into people’s lives.

Since then, the tours have expanded to various parts of the world and have brought a little magic – and even engagement opportunities – to so many people.

Curious? Well, Coca-Cola has provided numerous dates throughout December for anyone to encounter a little bit of this magic across the Netherlands. And because it’s Christmas, and it’s the season to share, Coca-Cola encourages visitors to donate to their charity of choice, the Red Cross, and in return, they will give Christmas socks or wrapping paper as a token of appreciation. 

I think I’ve found an alternative to watching the Grinch as Christmas plans this year…

What better way to celebrate love, hope and unity if not by participating in the marketing strategy of the most iconic carbonated drink to have ever existed? It may be the consumerism talking, but I think I’ve found an alternative to watching the Grinch as Christmas plans this year…

Tis the season for a Coke Christmas.


Cover: Mateusz Dach



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