Have you ever wondered who decided that Jolly Old Saint Nick would be a large-bellied, red-faced man with a long white beard? Or maybe you’ve questioned when Elf on the Shelf dolls became so popular?
This may come as a surprise to you, but many of our holiday traditions actually came from marketing!
Coca-Cola and Santa Claus
While Coca-Cola did not invent Santa Claus, one of their most well-known marketing strategies did shape the way we have imagined Santa Claus for almost 100 years.
The Coca-Cola Company first began its Christmas ads back in the 1920s, but initially had a more strict-looking Santa Claus figure featured in them. They later commissioned an artist to help them paint a picture of a more “wholesome” Santa, who was both “realistic and symbolic”.
Coca-Cola even used the classic and largely-known “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” to help illustrate their perfect Santa to fit the ads. The fact that Santa Claus wears red and Coca-Cola uses the color in their brand is just a lucky coincidence.
They then launched the new Santa in ads everywhere from magazines to billboards, and even calendars and plush dolls! This was a great marketing strategy for Coca-Cola because it allowed them to associate their company and their product, Coca-Cola, with Santa Clause himself.
It didn’t take long for this plump, red, and jolly image of Santa Claus to take over as the real Saint Nick. Think about it – for as long as you can remember, you have most likely imagined Santa Claus this way and had no idea it was all because of a soft drink company!
In every commercial, tv show, movie, magazine, and even mall that you’ve seen, Santa Claus probably looked consistent with this image. This marketing strategy is so successful, that a skinny, unjolly, or green-wearing Santa Claus just wouldn’t be believable would it?
Black Friday Shopping
Associated with both the end of Thanksgiving and the beginning of Christmas time, Black Friday is considered by many to be a holiday of sorts in itself.
Marked today by insane discounts and sales for the consumer, the true story behind Black Friday started in 1950s Philadelphia. Police described the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday” because many flooded the city that day for the coming Army-Navy football game, making it easy for shoplifters to easily steal from businesses with the present crowd.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that retailers managed to turn this into a positive tradition for themselves. This was considered a day when businesses finally turned a profit, and this new “Black Friday” meaning was quickly accepted, and the old meaning was forgotten.
Now, many get excited for Black Friday and even make an event out of it. Those who live in smaller areas will travel to bigger cities and camp outside the stores to make sure they are first in line for the sales.
It has even made its way into Thanksgiving traditions, where many families will spend time looking through the Black Friday ads and planning what they want to shop for the next day.
While this came from another marketing strategy by retailers primarily in the Philadelphia area, Black Friday is a great tradition for customers as well. Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of the biggest American holidays and are quite close together, which can become pricey.
Having Black Friday and offering massive price drops are a great opportunity for low-income consumers to do their early Christmas gift shopping without breaking the bank. This is also a great way for companies to receive a spike in profits, and all-around, Black Friday is considered a tradition by many.
So you may or may not have heard of this one. Have you ever seen a pickle-shaped ornament on a Christmas Tree? Odds are, you have, but you didn’t even realize it!
Dating back to the late 1800s, a company called Woolworths received a number of imported German ornaments shaped like pickles. How did they sell these quirky Christmas ornaments you ask? They marketed them as a fun game to be played among children this time of year!
For some, pickle-shaped Christmas ornaments are traditionally “hidden” among the other ornaments, and the first child to find the Christmas Pickle gets to open the first gift on Christmas morning. Have you found a pattern by now? This came from a marketing strategy!
As crazy as it sounds, this sales pitch actually worked for the company, and it even became a tradition for some. While the myth was that this tradition did take place in Germany, it most likely is not true, but some still continue the tradition to this day with their families to determine which child opens the first gift.
Elf on the Shelf
Of all the traditions, the Elf on the Shelf is definitely the most recent, appearing first in 2005. Although this tradition is young compared to most holiday traditions, the Elf on the Shelf quickly picked up and has been a favorite of children each year.
Originally based on Carol Aebersold’s book about an elf reporting children’s behavior back to Santa Claus, these toy elves can now be found in many homes throughout the country this time of year.
Parents will often set the elves up in a way that appears they got into mischief after the kids have gone to bed, just for them to wake up and find. Many will see their named elf perched upon the fireplace, making flour-angels in a spilled pile of baking flour, or squeezing toothpaste all over the sink.
The Elf on the Shelf Company even sells the dolls in a bundle with the book and describes it plainly as “A Christmas Tradition”, even though up until 15 years ago, it wasn’t!
Marketing to Make Traditions
The holiday season we know today is far from what it was originally. Businesses take advantage of various scenarios to boost profit, and before you know it, we’ve got a new holiday tradition!
It’s strange to imagine a time where Christmas wasn’t associated with the chaos of Black Friday shopping, or to think there wasn’t always a single, pickle-shaped ornament on the tree. However, both businesses and consumers are all the better for these traditions because they bring us together.
What traditions will you be taking part in this holiday season? We might give the Christmas Pickle tradition a try!