When it comes to brand loyalty, Santa always delivers the goods

December 15 2000

I’M GOING to see Santa tomorrow. Well actually I’m taking Jazz, my three year old daughter to see Santa, I’m too big now, unfortunately! But it got me thinking; Santa Claus, Father Christmas, whatever you want to call him, has to be the strongest brand in the world.

Just think about it for a moment. Set aside your Christmas shopping list, postpone the effort to squeeze yet another party into your social calendar, stop worrying about how you’re going to clear the never-ending paperwork from your desk before the hols, and just consider this:

Santa is the original brand.

Look at the component parts of a brand – values, characteristics, consistency, quality, staying-power – Santa’s got the lot. Everybody knows Santa.

You always see Santa in a big red suit with a white trim and black boots. He always has a white hairy face and red hat with a white pom pom on the top. Have you ever seen Santa in a blue suit, or with a green trim, or dark hair?  That’s brand consistency for you.

To be fair, if you peer closely he does look different (don’t you think Santas are getting younger these days?). We’d have to move cloning from sheep to Santa to get them to look alike, and I suppose that’s a completely different argument. But you get the idea: total control over brand identity.

Wherever you go, anywhere in the world, Santa looks the same and stands for the same things. Santa just reeks of love, happiness, fun and sharing, giving and receiving. He’s all about kids and families and believing in the unbelievable. I mean, squeezing a mountain bike, a stereo and a play station down a chimney in a flat without a coal fire? Come on!

But belief in the brand, i.e. belief in Santa Claus, is incredibly strong. I can’t think of another brand that has the same power. Nike, Coke, Nintendo, would pay billions for that power.

How many other brands could persuade young children to believe that an old man from the North Pole spends all year making presents with his team of little elfin helpers and then flies around the world in one night delivering presents to every boy and girl who has been good for a year?

Santa’s brand manager was smart, though, and enlisted serious help. He’s got every parent lying through their teeth to convince their kids that Santa drives a sleigh, pulled by half a dozen flying reindeer with daft names, and then lands on the roof? It’s hardly believable, really. But hey, somehow it works and who are we to argue?

Just a thought: perhaps Santa’s brand manager could use some of his expertise to give the poor reindeer a bit more profile though. Dancer, Prancer, Chancer  or whatever they’re called work just as hard as the eponymous Rudolph, but they tend to be forgotten.

And that’s another thing. Customer fulfilment is novel – the whole flying reindeer thing – and effective. The world population is growing every year, more kids to visit than ever before, but I’ve never known Santa to be late.

Customer satisfaction is exceeded every year without fail. The sheer delight on the face of a child who wakens and realises Santa has been while they were sleeping is wondrous to behold.

Nobody has to promote Santa anymore, word of mouth has taken over. He appears earlier every year. My friend uses the promise – or threat – of Santa to extract angelic behaviour from her little horrors from Easter onwards.

But managing the disappointment of discovering that Santa isn’t real (that was a real trauma for me, it’s taken me the past two years to get over it) is probably the coup de grace.

I don’t believe there is another brand in existence that could get away with delivering such an enormous blow to a young child. That could then encourage that young child to forget the disappointment and the tears, and get over the psychological damage of finding out that his or her parents lied to them for years and go on to perpetuate that same myth to their own children?  It is a stroke of true branding genius.

“Young man, make your name worth something,” said Andrew Carnegie. Santa did. Can you?