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It’s the year of awkward Santas

Santa Claus stars in many commercials this season, but this isn’t the jolly old elf of yore. The 2011 model Santa has defects. We see him stumbling, awkward, even in pain.

It seems like advertisers are determined to push the envelope this year by putting St. Nick in some uncomfortable situations. Take a look at these three campaigns.

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First, there’s Best Buy, with its “Game On Santa” ads. In one spot, a happy customer has stuffed her family’s stockings so full that there’s no room for Santa’s loot, leading to an “awkward” situation. In another, an encounter with Santa quickly turns dark as a gift-giver chugs a glass of milk in front of him. (Agency: Crispin Porter & Bogusky.)

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Next, there’s Chevrolet, which is running a series of ads in which “Nick” is cast in the roll of an ordinary Chevy salesman, trying to blend in when people spot him. Here, Mr. Claus is treated as an awkward fellow who, due to his fame, can’t properly socialize. (Agency: Not sure, but Chevy’s lead agency is Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.)

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And finally, in a less awkward but still bizarre situation, Santa suffers from back pain in this commercial for Bayer’s Aleve brand. (Ad agency: Energy BBDO.)

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I don’t particularly care for ads with Santa in them, but if you must employ the jolly old elf, I think he has to be treated very carefully. He’s not a sacred symbol—in fact, the fat, red Santa we know was mostly developed for Coca-Cola advertising. But Santa’s image belongs to the imaginations of children, and therefore he needs to be handled with complete dignity. Ad Santa doesn’t get mixed up in irony or cynicism, he doesn’t complain, and in the rare case when he displays a weakness, it can only be something earnest and charming. Pill-popping back-pain Santa doesn’t really meet that standard. Nor does the socially awkward car-selling Santa, or the Santa who scowls at a mom who’s out-shopped him.

For a good example of how to do it right, see this classic 15-second M&Ms commercial from a few years ago (1996?), which preserves the fantasy of the kind-hearted, whimsical Santa.

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Related: See Santa’s appearance in the “Summer Time is Pepsi Time” campaign earlier this year.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Advertising

4 comments

  1. David says:

    What did you think of Palm Centro’s “Claus” a few years back? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=camMiqtt19I

    • Daryl Lang says:

      Ha! I’d never seen that until just now. That’s cute… He’s still got his reindeer, still giving out gifts, still seems like a good guy. Losing the beard though? Risky move!

  2. Jaime says:

    That’s so funny. I noticed this myself and being an adult I wondered why I disliked these commercials so much (except for the Chevy one) But the Game On, Best Buy one’s seem mean spirited lol Who challenges Santa?! Then the Aleve one is just plain sad, Jolly old St. Nick does NOT feel pain, nor does he look pathetic. Kind of a dumb move on Aleve’s part if you ask me.

  3. Melissa says:

    I also noticed the oddness of the “Santa” commercials. The guy in the Chevy ads just kind of creeps me out, and I agree with the comments on the other two. Seriously, leave that particular icon alone!

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