Between 1931 to 1964, Coca-Cola popularized Santa Claus' image in a red-and-white suit in numerous print advertisements through various scenarios.
Santa Claus is a legendary figure in western Christian culture. Before 1931, there were many different Santa Claus depictions worldwide, including a tall gaunt man and an elf. Santa's physical appearance has changed over the years until he eventually merged into the now-familiar personality, a jolly man, wearing a red-and-white suit with a white beard.
In 1931, the Coca-Cola Company began placing its ads in popular magazines. Archie Lee, the D'Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with Coca-Cola, wanted the campaign to display a wholesome Santa both realistic and symbolic. The company appointed Haddon Sundblom to develop Santa Claus advertising images, showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa.
Sundblom's drawings were inspired by an 1822 poem by Clement Clark Moore called "A Visit from St. Nicholas." These paintings depicted Santa as a warm, happy character with human features, including rosy cheeks, a white beard, twinkling eyes, and laughter lines. Although it's often said that Santa wears a red coat because red is Coca-Cola's color, but Santa appeared in a red attire even before Sundblom's creation. So, Coca-Cola did not create Santa. But Coca-Cola advertising did play a significant role in shaping and popularising Santa's iconic red image. As seen in older depictions, Santa wears different colored attire, and clothing specific to different time periods, some including the red and white motif.
Sundblom's Santa was launched in 1931 in Coke ads in The Saturday Evening Post. It frequently appeared in that magazine, including Ladies Home Journal, The New Yorker, National Geographic, and others. Coca-Cola's advertising from 1931 to 1964 showed Santa presenting toys, visiting the children who stayed up to greet him, pausing to read a letter and enjoying a Coke, and raiding the refrigerators at many homes. Furthermore, the original oil paintings that Sundblom painted was adapted for Coca-Cola advertising in magazines and on store displays, billboards, posters, calendars, and plush dolls.