Santa and the Backwards belt

Santa and the Backwards belt


Many people credit Coca-Cola with ‘inventing’ the modern-day image of Santa Claus as a jolly, white-bearded old man dressed in red and white. 

The truth is a little bit different.

While Coca-Cola is certainly the brand that has used this image most consistently and most widely, it wasn’t the first to use it in advertising. That honour goes to White Rock Beverages, which used a jolly Santa in red and white to promote its mineral water and other soft drinks from 1915 onwards. 

Coke’s association with the figure didn’t begin until 1931, when D’Arcy adman Archie Lee convinced the company it needed a campaign that showed a wholesome Santa Claus who was both realistic and symbolic. 

Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom was commissioned to develop advertising images of the ‘real’ Santa rather than a man dressed as Santa.


Sundblom asked his friend Lou Prentiss – a retired salesman – to pose for the drawings, and Lou became the model for the first few ads. The images proved immensely popular, but sadly Prentiss then passed away.

After considering various options, Sundblom decided to use a self-portrait as the basis for his next image, with the assistance of a large mirror.

The solution would have been fine, if people hadn’t loved the images so much that they paid very close attention to them. So when the next ad went out, Coca-Cola received a sack full of letters asking why Santa’s large belt was on backwards. 

Sundblom had forgotten to transpose his image.

The artist learnt his lesson: while he continued to use real-life models and props, he made sure to include any adaptations required.

And the moral is that, whatever way you look at it, Christmas is a time to have fun.

Thanks again to Dawn Childs for the lovely illustration and Merry Christmas/Season’s Greetings to everyone. Hopefully I’ll have a few stories in the new year.

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