John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Mark Twain and Fat Santa

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  Mark Twain

Loser:  Fat Santa                               




Folks, I’ve been reading a terrific book: Mark Twain’s just released auto-



The book is a great read and it’s a national bestseller.  Not bad for an author dead over one hundred years.


But Mark Twain isn’t just any author.  He is a literary powerhouse and iconic American brand who carefully cultivated this brand over his lifetime.


The success of the book is a testament to the success of this effort.


Twain was a man who always remained aware of how he affected his audience.  Reviewing the book, Garrison Keillor recounted how Twain used to dress in his classic white suit to parade up Fifth Avenue as churches were letting out and delight in being recognized by his many fans.


Even the decision to release his autobiography decades after his death is a brand statement.  First, he protected the many people who he writes about (thus being true to his brand as an incisive but basically amiable man) and, second, he created an outstanding marketing event –talk about suspense!


Hats off to this American institution!  As the man himself joked of his mistakenly printed obituary, reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated.   





Folks, here’s a sobering “statistic”: If Santa eats just one cookie for every child in the U.S.A., he’ll gain 3.7 million pounds in one night!  And he’s fat enough already.

Why does Santa’s weight problem matter? 


Because approximately 16 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are now considered obese in the United States.  First Lady Michelle Obama is campaigning to end childhood obesity.  Our military is worried about finding recruits fit enough to fight.  And recent studies show that a high percentage of obese children have the same thickened arteries as a 45-year-old.


In light of the above and as one of children’s most prominent role models, Santa has got to think about the message he is sending by constantly giving in to the whims of his stomach and Mrs. Claus’ perilous overfeeding.

I’m not calling for Santa to develop an eating disorder or to start working on a six-pack, but, yes, Virginia, Santa needs tough love and he needs it now.  Unlike the Wall Street Journal’s recent humor piece on upgrading Santa, my plea to shrink the jolly gift giver’s waistline is serious. 


Some of you are probably protesting: “but Santa has to be fat…”


Wrong.  While Santa can be plump and huggable, he shouldn’t be a walking heart attack. 


Besides, being fat isn’t an essential Santa characteristic.  Being caring and generous are.  But what’s caring or generous about leading kids down the fast track to diabetes?  You can do better, Santa. 

Besides, Santa is not Santa because he is fat.  His fatness is an exterior quality that comes from its old-time association with generosity and abundance.  That’s right: a hundred years or more ago people could be “fat and happy,” because being thin was associated with negative realities: poverty, starvation and illness.

But today when food is cheap and abundant, fat simply doesn’t have these connotations.  We know that obesity leads to negative medical consequences.

Moreover, Santa’s exterior is the result of artistic and advertising decisions made long ago. 

The rotund image of Santa Claus that we know today had its beginning in the 19th century when the famous cartoonist, Thomas Nast, modeled his Santa on the robber barons of his time.  Wealthy men in those days were overweight because they could afford to eat as much as they wanted. 


Nast sought to change St. Nicholas and created the image of an obese gift giver who would bestow gifts on children in need.  Later, in an effort to increase winter drinking of its product, Coca Cola managed to standardize Santa’s red and white outfit to match its own brand’s colors while keeping him fat.

Advocating a thinner Santa is not about being a scrooge.  Santa remains an iconic figure to our children and needs to step up to the healthy plate for their benefit.  If parents have to egg him on this year to lose a few pounds, so be it.  Christmas future will be happier and healthier for everyone.

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.



Your brand is always more than just a name.

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