Of Movies, Memes and Santa Claus

I love going to the movies. It affords me two of my greatest pleasures in one outing: Watching motion picture stories, and seeing commercials on a giant screen and picking them apart.

Just before The Hobbit, I sat with my friends and watched a series of commercials, most of them ranging from mediocre to dreadful. One came along that was quite shiny: a Coke commercial with Santa Claus looking at our world through a snow globe. In it, various characters, from a store clerk to a young couple sitting on a park bench and a dog left all by itself on a city street, are moved about by an interested and seemingly omnipotent Santa, who by tilting the snow globe (and therefore our planet), makes sure each character ends up having a merry little Christmas, whether they intended it or not.

It reminded me a bit of the delightfully creepy Christmas song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which, in a cheery major key, reminds children that Santa is watching and knows everything, including the things you’ve done that are not so nice. Despite the final frame and the tagline that reads “Open Happiness,” which is an expression of Coke’s positioning as symbol of all that is good and right from American culture, I was left slightly disturbed at god-like Santa.

Did the makers of the commercial intend for us to feel that Coke thinks it’s so big and powerful that it can change the course of human events with the tilt of a snow globe? Probably not. I’m sure the creators wanted to reinforce the connection of Santa in the red and white suit with the Coke can, and of course the parallel of “opening happiness” on Christmas morning with opening up a can of Coke. The urban myth that Santa was invented by Coca Cola is in itself a meme that’s regaining momentum in advertising circles.

Could there have been a better, less reactionary way to connect the joy of Christmas with the brand promise of Coke? One that didn’t make you shudder at the thought of an old white man with a beard deciding your fate? I invite your suggestions, and will happily send them along to Atlanta, Georgia, should Coke execs care to read our input.

*After writing this post, I found a Conan O’Brien parody of the coke commercial I mentioned. You get the picture.

**And here’s the original Coke ad. Evidently, it’s from 2010.