Growing up on the Canadian Prairies, I’ve always found December magical —blankets of powdery white snow, clear starry skies, and glittering layers of frost. To many children’s delight, it’s also filled with snow angels, twinkling lights, and excited anticipation for the arrival of Santa Claus.
Santa Claus is a legendary icon for Canadian children. His classic red suit, black leather boots, and snowy white beard are universally recognized.
But did you know Santa’s suit wasn’t always red? Before the 1930s, Santa was depicted in a variety of colours, including blue, green and yellow.
You might be surprised to know that Santa’s modern day image was heavily influenced by The Coca-Cola Company. Haddon Sundblom was commissioned by Coca-Cola in 1931 to develop advertising images using Santa Claus, cementing his iconic image for years to come.
I think now, when people envision Santa Claus, they envision the Coca-Cola Santa Claus. Many of them don’t even know the originator, the fact that Haddon Sundblom painted this perfect vision of Santa Claus, and kept this vision of Santa Claus consistent for over 30 years. —Ted Ryan, Director of Heritage Communications, The Coca-Cola Company
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Since then, Coca-Cola has used their image of Santa to heavily market sugar-laden cola to children. They started out with ads in popular magazines in the 1920s. Through the years they featured the loveable icon in animated television commercials, including alongside one of the most popular symbols of Coca-Cola advertising, the animated polar bear.
In that 1964 [painting], [Santa] has a brand new technology, and he’s showing the kids how to use a helicopter that he’s brought for them. —Ted Ryan, Director of Heritage Communications, The Coca-Cola Company
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That’s really what we were trying to do – create a character that’s innocent, fun and reflects the best attributes we like to call ‘human’. The bears are cute, mischievous, playful and filled with fun. —Ken Stewart, creator of Coca-Cola Company’s Northern Lights Commercial
These powerful and persuasive ads reveal an unfortunate reality —Santa sells, and sometimes he sells unhealthy products to kids. As a childhood icon, should this be permitted?
Many leading Canadian health organizations in Canada stand against this practice.
Imagine a world where children and parents were supported to make nutritious food choices, free of food and beverage marketing. In this place, childhood icons would not be used to influence their food preferences.
Momentum is building to make this vision a reality —but your help is needed.
Join the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition and ask the Canadian government to restrict the marketing of foods and beverages to children.
Happy Holidays! May the magic and wonder of the season stay with you into the New Year! —From the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition
By Ashley Hughes, Registered Dietitian and Coordinator for the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition