Santa Held Hostage in Cola Wars

Coke's Secret Formula Demanded as Ransom!

By Published on .

Excuse me if I blow this completely out of proportion, but how often does this hard-hitting blog get to explore issues so fundamental to the fabric of our society? It turns out that White Rock Beverages Corp. has demanded that the Coca-Cola Co. apologize for claiming it invented Santa or give up the recipe for its secret formula.

As you may know, this year, Coke celebrates the 75th anniversary of its version of Santa Claus. You can see a virtual gallery if you dig through this site.

To hear Coke tell it, they virtually invented the modern version of Santa. Of course, when pressed, Coke says it's never said it "invented" Santa. You know... it just gave us the one that we all know and love. From an earlier Coke press release:

Legendary illustrator Haddon Sundblom created the rosy-cheeked figure – today's traditionally accepted appearance of the jolly old elf – in 1931 for a Coke holiday advertising campaign. Since that time, the Coca-Cola Santa has become one of the most beloved cultural icons and an anticipated part of holiday tradition.

The White Rock Santa
The White Rock Santa
But the folks at White Rock soda, based in Queens, N.Y., take issue with that claim. White Rock says IT's Santa was not only just as jolly, but has a good 16 years on Coke's St. Nick -- their Santa first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner in 1915, driving a kick-ass soda truck and looking pretty pleased with himself. White Rock's full-color Santa made his debut in Life magazine in 1925. In that ad, it's clear why Santa is jolly: He's about a third of a way through a bottle of whiskey (the White Rock was just a mixer, apparently) and chuckling while reading Christmas requests. (More Santa history here).

So maybe what we're seeing here is another Christmas tradition: Coke rolls out Santa; White Rock gripes; NBC decides to call it a civil war just to spite the Bush administration; Jimmy Carter blames Santa for the plight of the Palestinians.

The best part about this is that White Rock drives a hard bargain. According to a press release sent out by White Rock, "White Rock President Larry Bodkin ... has a simple demand: a public apology from Coke for co-opting Clause and/or the beverage company's secret formula."

Because this blog post is about such a serious story, we asked our beverages reporter Kate MacArthur to contact someone at Coke. "It sounds like someone needs a little holiday cheer," said a Coca-Cola North America spokeswoman, responding to the White Rock claims and noting that the marketer has consistently said it didn't invent the modern image of St. Nick, but rather popularized it. "We know Santa would join us in sending holiday wishes to all of our competitors."
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