Nothing better-known, and also more mysterious than Santa Claus – the character and the suite of constructions of the imaginary that are associated with it. All the serious research and analysis dedicated to it attests to the fact that it is a ” tradition invented” gradually, a complex creation based on an old and new symbolic character, at the same time, in continuous evolution and transnational dissemination. Santa Claus is a “global icon”, but with considerable local variations. Above all, there are some features easily recognizable by everyone, regardless of generation, geographical area or religious affiliation: advanced age, silver beard, red coat and hat, sleigh pulled by reindeer or deer, joviality. Due to the fact that he is an archetypal character (i.e., a form of condensed representation, specific to several cultures), his extreme plasticity has led to countless representations and uses in the advertising industry and beyond.
There is only one step from here to the appearance and claim of an associated trademark. And yet, the legend of Santa Claus, like any legend, has a starting point. In this case, it would be Bishop Nicholas of the city of Mira in Asia Minor (today Demre, Turkey), who would later become one of the most popular and beloved saints of Christianity. Recognized and appreciated since his lifetime for his extraordinary kindness and generosity, as well as the attention paid to children, he is considered, almost unanimously, the basis of the founding myth of the charismatic Santa Claus later. Or one of its “precursors”, we could say. Even his basic features (rich beard, facial contour, body posture) bring with them Santa Claus later – see, for example, the painting of St. Nicholas painted by the great painter Tintoretto (1518-1594) at the Museum of Art in Vienna.
The recurring figure in the collective imagination of humanity, in the form of a jovial old man dressed in a red outfit, a penetrating-magnetic red, is much more recent. Even if there is no exact date, it is linked to one of the biggest “hits” in the history of marketing and the advertising industry: the association of the colour code with one of the most popular carbonated drinks, Coca-Cola, with a character from the western collective imagination related to a holiday season. “Our” Santa Claus appears immediately after the end of the Second World War, after the world regains its taste for life and its joy of living. He is rubicund, smiling, generous – everything the Americans and Europeans needed in those moments of rebirth, after a great tragedy. It is therefore not surprising that it was immediately adopted not so much by the market as by the collective “imaginary” I mentioned earlier.
Beyond the origin and development of this legendary character, Santa Claus has become over time a marketing idea that can sell anything. Or almost anything, as evidenced by the images of various advertising campaigns that can be found in specialized textbooks or for free, on the Internet, from beer to language courses. Santa Claus is the most expensive character in history, with an estimated brand value of about $ 1.6 trillion, which is probably much more than any other brand on the market.
Santa Claus as registered trademark brings us closer to a fundamental problem of trademark protection, namely: we have a trademark, but what do we do with it? How do we keep it alive? The registration of a trademark brings not only advantages and property rights, but also the cultivation of the ability to keep it alive, the art of defending it against attacks and attempts at counterfeiting, imitation, proximity, etc. Claiming one of the most famous brands in the world, such as our Santa Claus, would involve, among other things, absolute vigilance, the provision of costly and time-consuming legal actions, which no depository would be able to afford. Beyond the appearance and legal action of the owner of a trademark, the most important idea of this example related to Santa Claus remains, namely, to realistically appreciate the “material” ability to make it reliable, its chances of survival. From another point of view, no matter how seductive the financial share of a trademark belonging to the public domain, we must not forget that the registration of a trademark is a private act by its very nature. To steal by registration a part of its universal values, based on solidarity, family, hope – just as it is the case of Santa Claus – means to weaken precisely the foundations of our world. Definitely, Santa Claus is a character full of surprises, precisely because he does not let himself be easily domesticated and understood. After all, the true brand value of Santa is that it belongs to everyone, without actually belonging to anyone. Another paradox of the world of brands, which deserves a better understanding. Happy New Year!