In 1931, Coca-Cola began running ads in popular magazines.
Archie Lee, the D'Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the holiday campaign to show a wholesome Santa who was both realistic and symbolic. So Coca-Cola commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus — showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa.
For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (commonly called "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"). Moore's description of St. Nick led to an image of a warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human Santa. (And even though it's often said that Santa wears a red coat because red is the color of Coca-Cola, Santa appeared in a red coat before Sundblom painted him.)
To learn more about the Coca-Cola Santa by Haddon Sundblom check out: Coke Lore: The History of the Modern Day Santa Claus.
Holiday Ads Through The Years