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Ghosts of Christmas Ads

Ghosts of Christmas Ads

By Karen Clare

A Coca-Cola Christmas ad from 1964.


Because you should know what makes you ohhh, ahhh, boo and shop at Christmas.

By Karen Clare

’Tis the season for TV ads that make the heart glow — or squirm. 

Coca-Cola has been atop the commercial Christmas tree since the 1930s, when Michigan-born artist Haddon Sundblom first painted his kind, friendly Santa Claus. The soda giant needed to persuade folks to buy its popular summer drink in winter, too, and it hit the jackpot. Its makeover of Santa — previously rather stern-looking — went on to define the look of modern St. Nick: “a universal symbol of happiness and generosity,” says Ted Ryan, director of Coke’s Heritage Communications.

The multinational company has at times turned its back on Kris Kringle. Its 1970s version of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony),” performed by a group of racially diverse teens swaying in the shape of a Christmas tree, for example, is burned into the memories of millions. But Sundblom’s images are making a comeback in Coke’s 2014 holiday campaign. The glowing Coca-Cola trucks from the 1990s are back, too.

For some companies, reviving a past Christmas ad hasn’t gone so well. Folgers captured hearts in the 1980s with its ad featuring a son returning home for the holidays, making coffee with his little sister and waking his soon-to-be overjoyed parents with the fresh-brewed aroma. But its 2009 remake was criticized for its “creepy” sibling relationship, with a brother and (not young enough) sister bonding over a cup of coffee after he comes home from Africa.

Not to be beat, the U.K. has its share of classic Christmas commercials that tug at heart and purse strings. This year’s montage from John Lewis, a popular department store, made viewers swoon (and cry) with the story of a little boy and his lovelorn CGI penguin, Monty, set to the soulful lyrics of John Lennon’s “Real Love.” 

But British attempts to create a “classic” have been known to misfire. This year Sainsbury’s re-enacted the Christmas Day truce of 1914, when British and German troops put their guns down and joined together in a game of soccer. Many consider the commercial a sincere attempt to commemorate the centennial of the start of World War I, while others are outraged by the perceived commercial exploitation of dead soldiers. A chocolate bar in vintage wrapping, which the British actor-soldier sneaks into the pocket of a young German, is being sold at the supermarket to raise money for veterans. Whichever side of the barbed wire you’re on, it’s a poignant clip that highlights a remarkable event unknown to many.

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