Santa knows marketing.

Formerly a European saint, Santa branched into the gift market in 1804, through a partnership with the New York Historical Society. Working with society member Washington Irving in 1809, Santa managed to gain notoriety through mention in a history of New York, an annual banquet, and several anecdotes. Before long, everyone knew Santa’s target market (children) and his product offering (toys).

In 1822, New Yorker Clement Moore penned a story for his children, now known by its opening line, “T’was the night before Christmas….” Through this story, Santa set customer expectations and popularized his delivery system, complete with miniature sleigh, eight reindeer, and a little old driver.

Already a savvy international marketer — known throughout Europe as Pere Noel, St. Nicholas, Sinter Klaas, Christkindlein, and Kriss Kringle — Santa sought to expand his US presence. To foster market acceptance and brand loyalty, in 1866, Santa had a caricaturist from Harper’s magazine release pictures of a bearded man dressed in fur from head to toe. Throughout the late 1800s, Santa experimented with a variety of costumes, including red, blue, green and purple suits. An 1885 Christmas card of a red-suited Santa became extremely popular, and soon became the predominate image of Santa.

During a market downturn in the 1930s, Santa partnered with Coca-Cola, which was looking to spur product sales during winter, a slow time. Although most ads of the day were in black and white, the Coca-Cola ads featured red and white, making the holiday season ads, billboards, and in-store displays stand out. Through the ad campaign, both Santa and Coca-Cola broadened their share of the children’s market.

As the years passed, Santa embraced new marketing programs, including product placement and event marketing. He now appears in feature films, department store parades, and shopping mall displays. Santa uses the opportunities to increase market awareness, gain customer feedback, and take shipment requests.

In addition to asking his market — children — for wish lists, Santa also operates a mail order program, in cooperation with Canada Post. His team of elves handles fulfillment, but Santa personally makes deliveries on a single shipment date, December 25th. Children make payment by leaving milk and cookies — Santa pioneered alternative currencies long before Canadian Tire thought to do so.

Finally, like other smart marketers, Santa uses customer value management. By mining customer data, Santa divides customers into “naughty” and “nice” categories. He then delivers service accordingly, ensuring his high-value customers provide the greatest rewards. Santa stands at the top of the marketing heap.

(c) 2004 by Andrea Coutu, Vancouver Marketing Consultant Blog: