Open Sky Copywriting

Old Christmas Ads That Will Surprise You and Inspire You

 Advertising would exploit Christmas, but only you determine the integrity of the Christmas spirit. How you spend your holidays determines if the Christmas spirit is alive and well or not.

Are you with the people you want to be with?  Are you generous, kind, and forgiving? Christmas is about intentionally loving. No corporation can rob you of that.

But corporations are built by humans and they can create some pretty entertaining advertising, especially through the lens of 30, 40 or even 100 years. Let’s have some fun and look at old advertising.

As I searched through Google for old Christmas ads, it was amazing to see how most brand messages were “Our brand is better than theirs.” That is poor advertising. There’s no promise, no benefits, no value to the customer. I’ll pick each ad apart a little, or I’ll just point out why it inspired me. There are some ads that I think are really imaginative and fun. There are some smart ads and some outrageous ads. I hope you have as much fun with these as I did!

 Canadian Pacific Railway

santa races cp

CP Christmas


This first painting of Santa racing the CP train is what inspired this post. It’s fun and captures the imagination. As far as marketing goes, it’s not very effective, but all three of these images from CP place Santa in the middle of the real world. That’s a branding thing, associating the feelings we have about Santa with Canadian Pacific. Plus there’s something about trains and Christmas that has always been exciting.


Beer Belongs

Beer Belongs

This was not long after the second World War. Prohibition was still a threat so the United States Brewers Foundation actively promoted beer as a natural part of American life. Not everyone will identify with this, but it’s wonderful to be able to sit down and have a beer with family. This ad stood out because I identify with the feelings it’s illustrating and it surprised me a little that prohibition was still a popular idea after the war.


Happier With a Hoover

Happier with a Hoover

This is one of the outrageous ads. My jaw dropped when I saw this. I laughed, honestly, and then called my wife over so she could get a kick out of it. It demonstrates such a drastic change in attitudes. If it offends you, I’m sorry. There’s a cheekier ad coming later on.


Honda Gift Pack

Honda Gift Pack

This is smart advertising. Promising a free nylon backpack with the purchase of a small, motorized Honda bike. I would love to know how well this campaign did. There are other versions of this ad, newer and older, so it must have worked well enough to justify running it for multiple years.


Kodak Christmas

Kodak - Oldest 1900

This is one of the older Christmas advertisements I found. Printed in 1900, it proves that using attractive ladies in advertising is nothing new.


Oldest Santa

Sugar Plum Santa - OLDEST 1868

This is the oldest advertisement and illustrated image of Santa I could find (from 1868). There were many versions of Santa in the beginning, but we’ll talk about Santa history a little further down.


Leaving Coffee for Santa

over coffee

Not only is this ad cute, it also has a poem for it’s copy! This is one of the smarter ads that I found. There’s a little blurb about coffee being a great gift all year round because you can enjoy it hot or cold. Clever. But even more interesting is the fine print on the bottom. For 10 cents you can get a coffee scoop that will help you make delicious coffee every time! A great value-added offer. And people actually sent 10 cents in the mail?


Pennsylvania Railroad

PA Rail

I’m wondering if this ad made the cut just because it has trains in it again, or if there was actual value to the ad. One smart tactic PA Rail uses here is to adapt the classic story, “The Night Before Christmas.” Again, it captures a certain imaginative feel and associates it with their brand.


Smoking Santa

Pall Mall

This ad is pretty smart. It offers a benefit right in the headline, “Guard Against Throat Scratch,” and it even uses pictures to demonstrate how you get a mild smoke even after “17 puffs.” I was a little shocked to see a smoking Santa, but filtering through old ads revealed many tobaco companies using Santa’s star power in their ads.


James Bond and Bourbon

Sean Connery - Jim Beam

Speaking of star power, this ad rely’s heavily on Sean Connery’s popularity and his role in the upcoming new James Bond movie, “You Only Die Twice.” There’s little copy and a lot of white space. But come one, everyone wants to be like James Bond!


Cry to Get What You Want


Ok. This is the other outrageous ad you’ve been waiting for. Give it a quick read through. Don’t forget the couple lines at the bottom of the ad. I would love to know how effective this campaign was. As much as it sickens me (purely manipulative), it is pretty compelling. You want to read through the whole ad and that’s a win in marketing.


Here Kids, Play with Fire!


Ok, so obviously the kids wouldn’t be able to light it because they would have to fill it with lighter fluid first. Actually the headline in this ad is pretty good. “It always works.” That’s a promise and powerful benefit.


Santa and Coke

Coke and Santa

Coke has always been inventive and expressive with Santa Claus. They took the many legends and images that existed in 1931 about Santa and produced one solid image that caught on. Coke did not invent Santa, but they heavily contributed to his present image.


A Little Bit More About Santa

St. Nicholas was the inspiration for Santa Claus, and it all started with a poem called, “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” by Clement Moore in 1822. We know that poem as, “The Night Before Christmas.” This was the foundation for the Santa legend which was picked up and given life by a man named Thomas Nast, who illustrated Santa in Harper’s Weekly for years. Thomas was the one who showed Santa with the naughty and nice list, and living in the North Pole with a workshop full of elves. If you would like to know more about the history of Santa Claus, watch the video below. If you like reading, click here, here, and here for more Santa Claus history.


Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!  If you are celebrating a different holiday this season, I hope it’s happy!

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