Santa Subs for Polar Bears in Coke's Holiday TV Ad

Cola Giant Brings Back Classic Claus Character in 'Happy' Spot

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Coca-Cola is putting its polar bears on ice and bringing back Santa Claus for this year's holiday TV campaign.

The campaign, called "Make Someone Happy," was created by Coca-Cola Germany with Ogilvy and was adapted to the U.S. market by Coca-Cola North America. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, handles social and digital for the effort, which is set to Jimmy Durante's vocals of the song.

The holiday spot marks the first time since 2011 that the brand's classic Santa character has been the centerpiece of its holiday TV campaign in the U.S. (Mr. Claus appeared in a secondary ad called "Snow Globe" in 2012, according to the brand.)

Coke's classic version of St. Nick was created in 1931 by artist Haddon Sundblom and Coke has consistently used Santa since then.

However, the polar bears began taking a starring role in holiday TV ads for the 2012 season. In 2013, the bears were joined by a winged character named Puffin.

This year, Santa and the bears are essentially swapping roles, with Mr. Claus reclaiming the TV spotlight and the bears reduced to a supporting role for store-level retail executions. Still, a Coke exec did not rule out using the polar bears again in TV ads in the future.

Coca-Cola's polar bears
Coca-Cola's polar bears

The polar bears are "a very important equity for us," said Andy McMillin, VP of the Coca-Cola trademark for North America. "We have an embarrassment of riches having two wonderful icons like this."

Santa, he said, was better suited for this year's effort, which, according to Coca-Cola, is meant to encourage people to "look beyond the presents and focus on the true spirit of the holidays." Santa "just fits that so well as the ultimate symbol of giving and caring and bringing joy to others," Mr. McMillin said.

At the beginning of the spot, Santa appears from the North Pole drinking a Coke. Much of the ad includes scenes of people engaging in everyday moments of kindness as Santa looks down.

The ad will debut Nov. 27 on NBC. The spot, which will run through late December, will also air on ABC, ABC Family, Hallmark Channel, USA, TBS, Lifetime and Food Network. The campaign will also include print, radio and out-of-home ads.

The polar bears have been part of Coca-Cola's repertoire since first appearing in a print ad in France in 1922, according to Coca-Cola's corporate blog. The bears made their TV debut with a 1993 spot called "Northern Lights."

But the cute and cuddly critters have at times been co-opted by Coke's critics. In 2012, the Center for Science in the Public Interest used polar bears in an anti-soda video called "the real bears" that was created by Alex Bogusky.

The decision to downplay the bears was "absolutely not" a result of such attacks, Mr. McMillin said, adding that "our decision to use Santa again was really more around the idea of making someone happy."

Coca-Cola first deployed Santa for ads in the 1920s. In 1931 Archie Less, an executive with the D'Arcy ad agency that was working for Coke, sought to create a more "wholesome Santa who was both realistic and symbolic," according to Coca-Cola's blog. So Mr. Sundblom, the artist, based his version on the portrayal of Santa in Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," according to the company. The resulting ad debuted in The Saturday Evening Post.

The following video produced by Coke includes more details on Mr. Sundblom's creation: