Ye be needin’ a new image, Santa. . .

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Writers sometimes receive brown envelopes under the door, their contents providing proof of explosive new revelations about sports figures, pop stars, politicians or the guy who does the ShamWow commercials. In this case, I received a used phone bill envelope with someone’s grocery list scrawled on the back, but the contents were no less provocative.

What I found inside was the following confidential letter to Santa Claus, authored by a lead consultant and partner in the firm Stratospherical Marketing. This, I think you’ll agree, is going to blow the tinsel off of Christmas

Dear Mr. Claus:

As you know, North Pole Enterprises Unlimited retained my firm earlier this year to develop your new image. We understand that your goal is to recover from a few public relations hiccups of the last several hundred years, while solidifying your status as kids’ favourite holiday character.

I don’t need to remind you of our credentials. Suffice to say that, yes, we are the folks who got the Great Pumpkin into the Peanuts strip, and yes, we also got the Nike swoosh onto the side of the Easter Bunny’s basket. ’Nuf said about that.

Our work on your file began with a thorough examination of the Santa Claus brand, including reviews of media reports and other pertinent literature, and focus group interviews of elves, reindeer, your mythical character peers and, of course, children the world over.

From this research, we have ascertained that:

1. Although Santa Claus is a large and widely recognized figure, he carries around more than a sack full of gifts. Also onboard your supercharged sleigh, my friend, is a bunch of brand-related emotional baggage.

Santa is loved by many and hated by just as many. A statistically important cross-section of teenagers is merely ambivalent. The religious right also has mixed feelings – showing up at an evangelical church once in a while wouldn’t hurt, Nick.

All those kids who got coal? Not over it. All those kids scarred by drunken mall Santas? Not over it.

Elves forced back to work by the Hammer and Glue Act of 1862? Reindeer punished for whistle blowing to the SPCA? Parents tricked into leaving out scotch instead of milk?

Not over it, not over it, not over it.

Rumours stemming from the 1950s continue to persist about various mommies kissing Santa Claus. If one supermarket tabloid jumps on this story, you and your image become as appetizing as a half-eaten candy cane stuck to a sweater.

Do you have a thing for mommies, Santa? If so, you need to cease and desist immediately. We do not – repeat, do not – want you going all Tiger Woods on us.

2. Youth of today and others are not connecting to the red-and-white motif and the full beard. None of our focus group participants, for example, envisioned you texting Mrs. Claus en route back to the Pole, listening to hip hop or knowing what a tweet is.

The health-and-wellness brigade thinks you are too fat. Environmentalists believe the carbon footprint of North Pole Enterprises Unlimited is too big. Human rights advocates speechify that you are mistreating the elves. And Bob Barker wants you to set the reindeer free.

3. These days, it is not good enough merely to be famous. To stay famous, you have to be seen, heard and ingrained in the public psyche. And we’re talking all year long, Big Guy. Coming out of hiding each Christmas is not enough.

Stratospherical Marketing strongly believes that North Pole Enterprises Unlimited has failed to capitalize on opportunities in naming rights, marketing partnerships, co-branding, etc.

The Home Depot Pole? A Harley-Davidson logo on your sled? Santa Claus – the Official Large Person of Walmart? Why not?

So, where does all this research lead us? Our team has come up with a single major conclusion, upon which our other recommendations stand. This is the foundation, if you will, allowing Santa Claus and North Pole Enterprises Unlimited to rebuild their image, business model, and construction and delivery systems, over the next three to five years.

Stratospherical believes the Santa brand is too old and frayed to survive. You need to be edgier, hipper and a little bit dangerous. You need earrings, tattoos and swarthiness.

OK, Alpha Elf. Hang onto your hat.

Our recommendation is that you reinvent yourself as Go Go the Happy Pirate. You must trim down to become Go Go, and you will also need to drop “ho-ho-ho” – a catchphrase that many people consider offensive.

Your new catchphrase will be: “Arrrgh! If ye be nice, ye be gittin treasure. But if ye be bad, ye be walkin’ the plank!”

People love pirates. Look what Jack Sparrow did for Johnny Depp. Heck, Keith Richards liked the character so much, he adopted Depp. Or maybe that was Angelina Jolie. In any case, who wouldn’t want Keith Richards for a father or Angelina Jolie for a mother?

If we’ve done our job properly, you will soon be asking, How do I make this important transformation? Do I just one day start delivering gifts in an airborne Black Pearl? Or do I ease into my new role – an eye-patch one year, peg legs hung by the fire the next?

Relax, Santa. We’ve got it all sorted out. We at Stratospherical prefer a gradual and fully transparent transition, beginning in the spring with your own – wait for it – reality TV show. This will fully engage existing Santa fans, re-engage disillusioned fans and attract legions of new fans.

Several networks and cable companies have already expressed interest in Santa Claus: History’s Greatest Makeover. We start filming in January.

Would you please state your availability so we can embark on this exciting project?

And yes, Keith Richards is willing to adopt.

Yours,

Stockwell “Madman” Slickly

Stratospherical Marketing

George Lee lives, writes and edits in Edmonton, where the Santa brand continues to do quite well. Reach him at piecesofgeorge@featureswest.com.

Organizations: Stratospherical Marketing, Nike, Home Depot Harley-Davidson Walmart Black Pearl

Geographic location: Edmonton

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