The Postal Service’s new Sparkling Holidays stamps feature images of Santa Claus that originally appeared in Coca-Cola advertisements from the 1940s-1960s. Here are five facts about the special connection between Santa and Coca-Cola.
1. Santa has been featured in Coke ads since the 1920s. Coca-Cola began its Christmas advertising almost a century ago with ads in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. These early ads used a strict-looking Santa, in the vein of Civil War cartoonist Thomas Nast’s images.
2. Coca-Cola has helped shape Santa’s image. In 1931, the company commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom for a campaign that depicted Santa as warm, friendly and pleasantly plump. Sundblom went on to create Santa images for Coke until 1964, although the company continued to feature his paintings in its advertising for several decades to follow.
3. People loved Coke’s Santa images. Consumers paid such close attention to the ads that when anything changed, they sent letters to the company. For example, one year, Santa Claus appeared without a wedding ring, causing fans to write asking what happened to Mrs. Claus.
4. Santa got a friend in 1942. That year, Coca-Cola introduced “Sprite Boy,” a character who appeared with Santa in the company’s advertising throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Sprite Boy, who was also created by Sunblom, got his name because he was a sprite, or an elf. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Coca-Cola introduced the popular beverage Sprite.
5. In 2001, Santa became animated. At the dawn of the 21st century, artwork from a 1963 Sundblom painting was the basis for an animated TV commercial starring the Coca-Cola Santa. The ad was created by Academy Award-winning animator Alexandre Petrov.