Santa Claus takes to the streets with Coca-Cola Canada

Forget the snowmobile. These days, Santa is traveling by Freightliner. At least, that’s what he’s driving while on tour with Coca-Cola.

Various versions of the Coca-Cola Christmas truck have visited nearly 300 countries over the decades, but this year marks Coca-Cola Canada Bottling’s first Canadian tour. By the time the ride is complete, it will have passed through nearly 100 communities.

Coca-Cola truck driver Chrismas
Mike Matthews was one of about 20 drivers who got the chance to ride the snowmobile on wheels. “It was wonderful,” he said. (Photo: John G. Smith)

Mike Matthews is also reveling in his temporary role as one of the goblins, driving this sleigh on wheels around the Greater Toronto Area.

“It was amazing,” said the longtime driver for the bottling company as he prepared to unload a mix of Christmas trees, signs and lights that add to the festive feel at each stop.

“I just signed up and I’m fortunate enough to have seniority to take on the gig,” he added. “I want to be a part of that.”

Santa Claus with Coca-Cola truck
The popular image of Santa Claus can largely be traced back to an early Coca-Cola advertising campaign. (Photo: Coca-Cola Canada)

The history of trucks

Consider a tractor truck as one advertising media in every sense of the word. But a starring role in commercials has also secured its place in pop music culture. (Sorry, Santa. That will be the end of the pun in this article.)

The first three trucks, each illuminated with 30,000 lights, first appeared in a 1995 commercial created by advertising agency WB Doner. Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects house formed when making Star Wars, was responsible for turning them into a long convoy. By 1998, a version of the ad had aired in 100 countries.

The real-world tours began in the US in 2001 before expanding to Europe in 2010 and Australia in 2018. And they’re promoted as a gesture of goodwill just like soft drink ads. For example, Tours to Canada is in partnership with the GenWell Project, described as a Canada-led “global people-connection movement” that reinforces the importance of solidarity.

“More than ever, Canadians are hungry for a sense of community and connection,” said Angela Munsterman, transportation compliance specialist for Coca-Cola Canada. “This is a time of crisis and isolation unfolding across Canada.”

However, this truck delivers smiles.

Unloading the Coca-Cola truck
Trees, lights, and Christmas cheers are carried from one location to another. (Photo: John G. Smith)

“It’s the festive feel, it’s the twinkling lights,” says Munsterman, referring to why the truck has continued to resonate in the decades since its first commercial.

About 20 drivers like Matthews are responsible for keeping Canada’s trucks moving. And there are plenty of staff on duty at each location to guide families looking for selfie opportunities with the giant. Santa Claus, that is. Not Matthews.

“As you know, Santa is pretty busy,” quipped Munsterman, referring to the teams spread across Canada. And the role of being Santa’s helper was loved by the whole group. “We got quite a bit of turnout from our drivers,” she said.

However, do not be confused about it. Goodwill accompanies cases of Coke and many company-specific brands.

In most of the trailers, the trucks follow the chant that repeats “holiday is coming”, with Santa Claus transporting the Coke, but in one version the word has been changed. as “Santa Claus Packages Are Coming” to promote some of the seasonal packaging.

The second ad is admittedly a little more direct from an advertising standpoint, but Coca-Cola deserves a bit of time. They gave us the modern image of Santa Claus.

The funny, bearded guy with the red hat was immortalized in Haddon Sundblom’s painting, in the name of Coca-Cola, drawing details from the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. (Okay, the official poem is A Visit from Saint Nicholas, but the first line that sticks with us are Sundblom’s paintings.)

On the latest truck, however, the picture is framed by illuminated LED strips.

In 2018, one of the trucks appeared on the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, Finland, touted as the official home of Santa Claus. This year’s tour of Canada includes a stop in Ajax, Ont., home of a writer who works at a trucking magazine.

The 2021 tour ends next week. Santa Claus takes to the streets with Coca-Cola Canada


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