The Most Iconic Christmas Ads

Jennifer Barker

Business Development Strategist

Christmas isn’t complete without the jolly, rosy-cheeked guy in the red suit, right? When we think of the holidays, we think of Santa Claus, his elves and his reindeer. It’s amazing that when we see a picture of something as simple as a candy cane or sleigh, it can instantly take us deeper into the holiday season!

This time of the year, brands realize that they can capitalize on people’s emotions by using Santa Claus in their marketing materials. Brands of all types have done so successfully, ranging from Kodak to Coca-Cola. Let’s explore some of the most iconic Christmas ads over the last 100 years and how they have evolved over time.

1915

Interestingly, featuring St. Nick in a holiday ad is something that dates back to 1915. He is featured in a black-and-white issue in the San Francisco Examiner carrying a sleigh full of White Rock water and toys. Even 100 years ago, Santa was fat, cheery and sporting his white beard and red suit.

1919

Fast forward just a few years later in 1919 when the Murad Turkish Cigarettes used Santa in one of their ads. Mr. Claus had the same features - red nose, white hair and big red suit - but he was definitely portrayed in a way that was more appealing to grown ups. Perhaps that’s why the ad stated that Murad is what all the adults were choosing!

1935

Whitman’s Chocolates are never just a box of candy. Each chocolate has a different filling ranging from nuts to cherries to krispy rice. Sure, it’s fun to bite into a piece and see what’s in there, but it’s also helpful to know what you’re about to get yourself into! Whitman’s agreed, which is why the 1935 holiday ad featured a familiar-looking Santa and a chart with the different chocolates. Smart. Simple. Festive.

1940

Bell Telephone was founded in 1885, so the 1940 classic holiday ad wasn’t their first or last. What was different about this warm and heartfelt ad, however, was that it didn’t directly sell a product, or in this case, a service. Rather, it sent warm wishes to the customers of Bell Telephone. A perfect example of relationship building.

1948

Time Magazine has been keeping Americans up to date on worldwide issues since the 1920s. In 1948, a holiday ad was featured with Santa Claus riding in an airplane delivering magazine subscriptions to all the good boys and girls. With special Christmas rates posted, it was an informative and compelling ad for that time.

1954

Coca-Cola has always done a nice job of portraying Santa in a friendly, warm tone. Plus, he has a way of maintaining his vintage look and cheerful smile. The first and most classic ad from the company was from 1954 when Santa was shown with a bag of toys and a bottle of coke in his hands.

1956

Jello came out with their adorable Santa ad this year, which featured a more cartoonish appeal than other types of advertisements of its time. The ad shows a young child underneath a table sound asleep while Santa eats the Jello that was left out for him. Perhaps this is where all the inspiration for jello molds came from!

1972

The 1970s embraced the instamatic pocket camera from Kodak. It was made even more popular with Santa’s approval. This advertisement sent a friendly reminder that the Kodak Pocket camera was a great gift for anyone who “had a pocket.” The camera was reasonably priced (under $30 at the time) and could be purchased from a variety of stores.

1977

Imagine having the Quaker Oats man and St. Nick meet in person. They would definitely have a lot in common between their white curly hair and brightly colored clothing! But Quaker Oats also figured they’d both have a love for cookies, particularly ones made from oats. This 1977 ad was the perfect festive treat for bakers!

1993

The “Got Milk” ads from the 90s never failed to impress. They were funny yet purposeful and featured some of our favorite actors and actresses from the time. This classic commercial from the early 90s fit perfectly with Santa, considering every plate of cookies on Christmas Eve deserves a cold glass of milk!

1996

The M&Ms Christmas commercial “They Do Exist” is still shown on TV today. It’s a timeless classic where both the M&Ms and Santa Claus run into each other late at night and find out that they really do both exist. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate this commercial is probably related to Scrooge!

2011

Pepsi must have been feeling a little left out because they created their own commercial starring St. Nick - and poked some fun at Coca-Cola in the process. Even though Santa is always shown drinking Coca-Cola, he points out that when he’s on vacation, it’s Pepsi he drinks. It’s a funny commercial and a first of its kind, considering Santa is on summer break, wearing a red Hawaiian shirt and ordering drinks at the bar.

2011

Another great holiday ad from 2011 features Santa using his iPhone. In the commercial, he talks to Siri and gets updates on directions to a little boy’s house, what the weather’s like outside and how many appointments he has for the day. This is probably the first major ad that has shown Santa’s tech-savvy side. And we like it.

2015

One final iconic ad that we wanted to share is a recent 2015 TV ad called “I Am Not Your Dad.” In the commercial, a young boy is about to discover that his dad is eating the cookies that were left for Santa. The dad quickly makes a beard out of Reddi-Wip, but the real SC is standing right behind him.

Conclusion

Holiday advertisements have changed over the years, yet they still manage to send a consistent message of warmth, family and togetherness. As you think about your own branding for this holiday season, what type of message do you want to convey?

About the Author: Jennifer Barker

Jen is the Business Development Strategist for SEMGeeks and the only team member born and raised north of the Jersey great divide, i.e. the Driscoll Bridge. Her BFA in multimedia design and extensive experience in digital marketing make her both an analytical and creative thinker. Jen has lived and worked for digital agencies in two major cities over the last 17 years but 3 years ago this “gypsy living, free bird” happily put her roots down at the Jersey Shore. The struggle to defend North Jersey to the rest of the team is an ongoing battle. #TaylorHam

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