Santa still raking it in, despite climate of political correctness

Santa Claus, who spends a lot of time in U.S. air space but is rarely troubled by customs inspections, sat back and lit up a Cuban cigar....

Santa Claus, who spends a lot of time in U.S. air space but is rarely troubled by customs inspections, sat back and lit up a Cuban cigar.

It had been a good Christmas. There had been no real ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ phenomenon this year, no lines of angry mothers at his doorstep wondering why he hadn’t tripled production back in July. (How was he supposed to know, anyway? Predicting the economy wasn’t part of his job description. Who’d they think he was, Alan Greenspan?)

And the residual cheques from ACTRA were flying in. They seemed to get more and more dependable every year. It was as if all the copywriters and art directors (the old guy still couldn’t get used to the term ‘creatives’) had only one thought when a Christmas assignment showed up. Him. But fortunately, he figured, blowing a smoke dollar sign, if they had to have a one-trick pony, he was glad he was the pony.

In his more introspective moments, Santa was actually quite surprised that he had survived at all. After all, this was an era of political correctness. It wasn’t the overweight thing, you could counter that by being jolly, and a few good ho-ho-hos generally could get the challenger to change the subject.

No, it was the fact that, say what you will, Santa Claus was unalterably tied to Christmas. And everywhere else in corporate communications, Christmas had pretty much gone the way of the boardroom ashtray.

Santa knew what all 21st-century copywriters know: that the year-end is nowadays supposed to be shared. That if you say ‘Christmas’, you now also have to say ‘Hanukkah’ and ‘Kwanzaa’ and ‘Ramadan’, at the very very least. And your copy winds up as crowded and incomprehensible as the bottom of a mutual-fund ad, or the French side of a pharmaceutical label.

St. Nick (he knew that if you really thought about it, you’d realize he was baptized Catholic) smiled, remembering a recent New Yorker cartoon. The drawing showed an agency group presenting a Christmas-card layout to a senior executive, who responded, ‘Season’s Greetings! I like that! Just run it through legal, and we’ll go with it!’ Santa figured that about captured it.

And yet, somehow, he had not only survived, he had bloomed. All you had to do was turn on your radio to confirm that. From car dealers to dot-coms, department stores to electronic toys, just about every spot you heard starred the big deep voice filtered through the big white beard.

He loved it. He wasn’t too thrilled about some of the liberties taken with his carefully developed persona – he thought he’d better talk to his trademark lawyer about ‘Sanyo Claus’ – but the residuals made up for a lot of minor sins.

As with anybody, Santa had his likes and dislikes. He was kind of partial to the long-running Canadian Tire ‘Give Like Santa, Save Like Scrooge’ campaign, because it had an idea in it. Unlike a lot of glib adfolk, Santa liked ideas.

He also liked the Fido billboard, showing him and an English sheepdog, looking like twins separated at birth. He knew it was just a visual joke, but it was a damn good one, and it further built a brand brilliantly centered on dogs. Unlike a lot of grinchy clients, Santa liked feel-good advertising.

But really, there wasn’t much else worth much. In general, Santa knew, he was an easy solution, no creative sweat required. And for a seasonal campaign, where most clients won’t let you pay big bucks for somebody like Madonna (talk about Christmas trademark infringement!), he came cheap.

Hey, don’t be picky, said the big guy to himself, reaching for a second panatela. But he did make a note to talk to his agent before next Christmas. The elves were getting all the good lines.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING • CREATIVE THINKING’. He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072, by fax at (416) 693-5100 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com