Xmas: Absence Makes the Brand Grow Stronger

by James Hackett, Creative Director at Hackett Films

Christmas is in many ways the perfect brand, it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, it’s infinitely re-imaginable and it has a legacy and back-story to (almost) rival Star Wars. 

On the first point Christmas with it’s build up, main event and the supporting biblical narrative pop-up event of Easter, sits well within a calendar year… good scheduling from those pagan and christian events management people. 

Brand over-exposure can be an issue. Unfortunately now Jamie Oliver seems to inspire disdain from many super-market shoppers but his slow-roast pork in a box is for me an exemplary product. To use another TV cook example, Nigella Lawson I feel was suffering similar over-exposure ten years ago, but she went away for a bit, reappeared getting strangled in a few tabloids and then returns refreshed and triumphant with a ‘Nigella is back’ print campaign late last year… genius! We feel in some small way that we have been on this journey with Nigella and the campaign reflects this sentiment. 

Let’s look at re-invention for a moment; the illustrator Norman Rockwell and Coca Cola are noted as defining the modern image of Santa Claus but there are several depictions earlier that clearly influenced Rockwell. See the attached image of the 1935 depiction of Santa by Rockwell for The Coca-Cola Company. So Christmas now has this great obese over-sized elf character that is almost secular and has a great distinctive colour palette. He is adaptable and hugely exploitable but let’s not forget magical; my seven year-old is still a true believer. He is a cornerstone of the brand, and his world can be festooned with holly, snow, red velvet, nordic pattern, tinsel and ginger bread; a brand with a broad scope for variety.

The timeline is perfect for the four to nine year old age bracket. The younger ones are grappling with what exactly a year is and older ones psychologically embed Christmas in their calendar year, a habit that only slightly fades in adult-hood. Then when it is all done, it goes away, and that is the genius of this event. Fond memories linger but it is the absence that makes the brand grow stronger. Much like a franchise film, music festival or hot cross buns; the gap is as important as the event. 

Santa is adaptable but very few brands really own his image in the way that Coca Cola once did. In the 1930’s Coke was still re-positioning itself, the cocaine was now removed from the Coca leaves before they where added. The product was looking to be more family less crack-head. Which brings us to 2016. Is it time for an image overhaul? Why not recast Santa: as a svelte bicycle riding inventor, an ageing hipster who is the unsung hero of the ‘maker movement’ or an African craftsman. He is free of copy-right and seems to be tolerated by most other religions.

Recently I spoke with Jon Casimir the ABC commissioner (and in a former role, co-creator of the Gruen brand). Last year, Gruen had great audience figures for the ABC. This Casimir felt was partly because the show was absent from our screens in 2014. It came back refreshed, Wil our Santa was back with new hair and his two trusty elves Todd Sampson and Russell Howcroft. We’d missed them and we happily let them climb down our chimneys and into our TV sets. 

With Christmas it is the character and his annual absence that works so well. A bearded friend that comes to stay but not for too long and only leaves one plate and a glass to clear up. As people who build and shape brands we should look at the brands we work with and nurture them, give them festivals, smaller outings and breaks so our brands are constantly refreshed, giving brands like Christmas the trident-like appeal of absence, good timing and charm.