One Santa to rule them all


All Santas look the same. This is important to you if you’re a marketer.

Lots of brands and markets splinter. We have markets with hundreds of different cell phone models, catalogs containing tens of thousands of different kinds of nuts and bolts. There are very few marketing examples of a natural monopoly.

The Bell phone system was a natural monopoly. Consumers benefitted from having one and only one phone system, so anyone could call anyone. The bigger it got, the better it worked.

Microsoft, for a long time, profitted from a natural monopoly on their operating system. Having the same system on every computer benefitted them as much as it benefitted the users. Google, of course, is now profiting from an ever more efficient and widespread operating system (the web).

But those are businesses, not marketing icons or brands. Santa, on the other hand, is the living logo of a holiday and an idea. And we don’t want multiple versions. There are no real pretenders to the Nast/Coke Santa that show any sign of catching on, because the market benefits when there’s just one icon to represent this idea–a key part of the appeal, even for rational skeptics, is that there’s precisely one Santa and this is what he looks like.

Which is the lesson for marketers: If you set out to build an iconic brand/logo, your best opportunity is to find a story, a market and a process that works best when there’s only one. They’re easy to recognize when someone points them out to you: Harley, the Nobel Prize, the Super Bowl. Walter Cronkite, Oprah, Warren Buffet. Tiffany, Sand HIll Road, Heinz ketchup. These are brands we rely on not when we want to have an argument (Ford vs. Chevy) but when we want to know we got the right one, the only one, the best one.

Hard to build, a treasure to own. Don’t forget to leave out some Tollhouse™ cookies.