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Donkin's World: Green Father Christmas

The world needs a green Santa and Coca Cola needs tyo make it happen, declares Richard Donkin.

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There is a popular myth that in the 1930s the Coca Cola company pulled off one of the most audacious branding coups in the history of marketing. They kidnapped Father Christmas, stripped him of his green clothes and issued him with a bright red outfit to match their company logo.

Itís not true. Father Christmas had been represented in a red suit in Harperís Weekly by Thomas Nast in the 1860s. Santa Claus had been depicted in different coloured clothing throughout the 19th century. A popular print, illustrating Charles Dickensí A Christmas Carol, opted for a green-coloured outfit.

You can see, therefore, how the green-to-red story has been simplified. But if Coca Cola didnít create the red coat, it certainly did much to consolidate the image of the Father Christmas we know today as the jolly old man with white beard and red suit. Throughout the 1930s the company used and developed Santaís image in line with its own brand aspirations. And it still does. http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/heritage/cokelore_santa.html
The world needs a green Santa

Today itís time they gave him back to us. The world needs a green Santa and Coca Cola needs to make it happen. This is why: we all know that the Coca Cola can is red, while the drink is black and is usually sold in red topped plastic bottles. Red plastic tops are common on many other drinks bottles too.

All kinds of plastic finds its way in to the sea. You must have heard of the accumulation of plastics in certain ocean hot spots such as the North Pacific Gyre. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch

Most of the plastic thatís ever been made is still around on our planet and much of it is floating in the sea, often reduced to tiny particles.

At a presentation at the Royal Geographical Society in London, we were shown a photograph of plastic parts that had been pulled from the stomach of a dead Albatross chick. There was a lot of plastic. http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/midway/#CF000668%2016x21 Most of those plastic pieces were red. This is because the parent bird mistakes tiny pieces of floating red and faded red plastic for its most common prey Ė the krill that is abundant in much of the southern hemisphere.

Replacing red plastic tops with green bottle tops is not going to save the Albatross overnight. Itís not going to rid us of plastic in the ocean. But it would make an awfully powerful statement for a company such as Coca Cola.

Changing those red cans to green and dressing Father Christmas in a green outfit would be more than an advertising stunt: it would be a symbolic act of leadership, signalling to every other company in the world that unless the corporate sector begins to think about the environment in the same way that it approaches business and profit, there isnít going to be a corporate sector in future. There isnít going to be a world fit for our grandchildren, and there isnít going to be a Father Christmas.

So what about it Coca Cola? How about turning every lesson you learned in marketing classes on its head. A big risk with a £39bn brand? http://www.computerarts.co.uk/in_depth/features/design_icon_coca-cola Perhaps. But itís a far bigger opportunity. The risk of doing nothing? Thatís a shared risk between Coca Cola and every other company in this world. They can all hide behind each otherís sales figures.

Re-branding Santa Claus

But just now the world needs leadership. Our children are demanding that each and every one of us takes a stand on the environment, and we all want to donít we? Itís just that we donít always know what to do for the best and we need to be reminded constantly that small things, cumulatively, can make a difference. Look how it's made a difference, disastrously, to the Albatross. If we donít buy that red-topped bottle itís a small gesture but one that we can make easily.

But the big boys, the big companies, can make big gestures. Governments and international accords can ban things, of course; but companies can do things overnight with a flick of the chief executiveís fingers. Imagine being the boss who turned Coke green. Re-branding Santa Claus as champion of the environment might just be the start. Coca Cola already has an iconic glass bottle, easily recycled. Why not move away from plastic all together?

So come on Muhtar Kent, http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/ourcompany/bios/bio_76.html Coca Cola's boss. You've weaved enough magic in that company to do something big and this would be big. Doing the right thing is part of your family heritage. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necdet_Kent Others on your board would say you were mad. People would resign. But some people might get it. Some kid in the Sudan might thank you one day. I would thank you and I'd buy a coke to celebrate.


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