Forget a childhood full of innocence – Santa Claus is a cheap and easy way for corporate advertisers to play on the vulnerable emotions of consumers at Christmas time.
He always comes at the right time, as people reflect on their lives, their families and their prospects.
Children love him no matter what he’s selling, and parents remember a simpler time when they didn’t buy and wrap the presents.
But the dear old man is the twinkling eye of a seasonal marketing storm.
Deakin University corporate ethics and marketing lecturer Michael Callaghan told The New Daily that Christmas – particularly Christmas Day – was the perfect time for marketers to cut through the noise and grab our attention by creating a sense of empathy.
The fat man is perhaps one of the most recognisable and powerful characters to pull at Australians’ heartstrings, Dr Callaghan said, with all the celebrity sparkle but without the celebrity price tag.
“It’s a rather simple example of celebrity association or endorsement lifting the image of the brand,” he said.
“But when Santa Claus is the celebrity, you don’t have to pay him and at this time of year he has more sway than Russell Crowe.”
The corporate companies playing the Christmas card
Chinese telecommunications Huawei could be considered a “naughty list” candidate around the world.
In late August, the government quietly announced the decision to block Huawei from providing the next-generation 5G network, citing fears of espionage.
Then, in early December, at the behest of a New York prosecutor citing unspecified breaches of sanctions against Iran, Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested.
So what to do if a tarnished image needs polishing?
The telco’s answer: Deliver a super emotive Christmas advert featuring a young deaf girl and Santa using Huawei’s new application, StorySign, which can translate selected children’s books into sign language in real time.
University of Canberra adjunct professor of marketing Petra Bouvain told The New Daily Huawei was likely trying to tap into the Australian spirit of Christmas and pitch itself as a global brand.
“Huawei is seen as a Chinese company, not a global company, like Apple is global,” Ms Bouvain said.
“You need to have this emotional relationship with the brand, and Huawei doesn’t have that. Firstly, you can’t pronounce the name.”
German supermarket chain Aldi is also appealing to Australians, with an ode to the Australian outback Christmas.
The campaign, created by Aldi’s long-standing creative agency BMF, shows Santa crashing his sleigh in the bush.
He should be making a list and checking it twice, but instead he’s building fences, shearing sheep, drinking milk at the pub and enjoying lobster with the locals.
In one image of his beard and belly, we know exactly who he is and what this story is about, Dr Callaghan said.
“It’s particularly useful to use Santa Claus as everyone is primed about what the message is and the timing has primed people emotionally, with everyone wanting to be close to family,” he said.
The marketing academic said the strategy very easily built a sense of trust, but the corporate communication overlaid Santa’s magic.
“At the end of the day this about monetising the consumer,” Dr Callaghan said.
Coca-Cola, which has been mistakenly given credit for creating Santa Claus, but only appropriated the European character, partnered with the Salvation Army for its Christmas campaign to remind people to give.
Using the tagline, It Feels Good to Give, the commercial features a teenage boy buying a Coca-Cola and a sandwich for a homeless man sitting outside a convenience store.
And surprise, surprise, the homeless man, turns out to be Santa Claus.