Santa banter with Arty Sipkus, marketing director for Santa Claus
He’s known the world over for his kindness and generosity, but marketing Santa is hard work according to his embattled marketing director, Arty Sipkus. When he’s not defending Santa’s integrity from UK tabloids, he’s dreaming up new ways to bring the old jolly fat man into the 21st century.
It must be a pretty busy time for you at the moment?
Oh you better believe it! Half my day is fielding calls about how much red Santa should wear this year, is he appealing enough to the 17 to 25-year-old age bracket and even, should he be encouraging people to leave out healthy snacks to set a good example. Leading up to the big day, stress and lack of sleep are de rigueur.
Is it easy to market Santa as a brand?
Well, yes and no. Parents and kids around the world know Santa as the big fat guy that spreads good cheer and presents like a broken vending machine, but I tend to think that people believe the magic is gone. I mean, the guy is a freaking icon, the face of Christmas, and the paparazzi still slam him for being fat, unhealthy or whatever those slime buckets come up with. One UK publication (which I can’t name as we’re in the process of litigation) claimed that Santa was a slave labour employer! Can you believe that shit?
What has been the best way to market Santa?
We’ve been close partners with a number of leading commercial brands for years – a great way for people to see Santa licensed on all sorts of products. Coca Cola has been one of our longest relationships. The best thing that we ever did was to create the rumour that Coca Cola invented what everyone perceives to be the current imagery of Santa (jolly red cheeks, red clothes, white beard, rotundness). Of course that’s a load of reindeer droppings, but it has helped the mystic of Santa to continue. A guy that’s over a thousand years old and has been known to have a little too much Christmas cheer in the form of a bottle of sherry can be a hard sell. There are a few campaigns that hes not that proud of but we all make mistakes. Hence the watered down version we now know.
Many companies are likely having their marketing budgets slashed this year – do you think Santa will have to do the same?
No, no, nothing like that. As I said, we’ve got partnerships with some of the biggest players in the world. You can’t throw an elf without hitting the latest McDonald’s ‘Santa’ burger or an ‘Apple vs. Mac’ Christmas TVC, and pimping… ahem… sorry branding him out means a good ROI for us. He’s a great employer to have, as I said before in regard to the elves, so I don’t think that our department is in jeopardy. Why what have you heard? Is there something that you know that I don’t? Christ, I just had to bail out my dead-beat brother-in-law, so a budget cut is something I don’t need!
What new initiatives have you established to bring Santa into the 21st century?
We’ve been attempting to digitise a lot of our budget but knowing the best way to do that, well, it’s difficult. Martin Lindstrom is a close friend of ours and he’s given some great advice engaging with our consumers – you know, dialogue over monologue and all that rubbish. We’re trying to get Joseph Jaffe to advise us but he’s somewhere in Brazil instructing pygmies or something, he’s a hard guy to find. Someone recommended we fly in Matt Granfield to help us with our social media strategy, so we’re waiting to see what his fee is. We have trialled in-game advertising on Wii and Playstation3 by having Santa fly through the sky in Lara Croft’s latest episode. We were aiming at engaging that growing ‘gamer’ market but too many of the respondents were focusing their attention on Lara’s bust to notice that he was even there. We have had a degree of success with a new Santa’s Toyland online virtual world where you create an elf avatar and live and work like all the other elves. The hours are long and hard, with little benefits but the elves seem to like it. We have good relationship with their union apparently but I don’t deal with that.