Legend has it that in December 1955, a young girl misdialed a telephone number only to be put through to the ‘red phone’ at Continental Air Defense Command (CONRAD). A Colonel Shoup, who purportedly answered the phone, is reported to have confirmed his identity as Santa Claus and thanked the girl for leaving treats for his reindeer.
How much of the legend is elaboration is not clear. However, since 1955 NORAD (the successor to CONRAD) has maintained an annual campaign of tracking Santa Claus and informing the public of his progress on Christmas Eve.
Colonel Shoup was inspired to use the event as a public relations exercise for NORAD, publicizing the cutting-edge abilities of the organization. In part, this would bring an organization which received little public attention to the forefront of people’s minds and the media.
The campaign demonstrates the effective use of multiple forms of media for delivering a single campaign, and to date, telephone hotlines, newspapers, radio, phonograph, television and the internet have all been employed to inform people where Santa is.
Today, CGI videos of Santa progressing on his journey are uploaded online. These were accompanied by voice-over until 2011, typically recorded by NORAD staff, but often featuring celebrity guests such as Jonathan Ross, Ringo Starr and Aaron Carter.
The appeal of the campaign for children is obvious. For adults, however, the project invites people to partake in the fiction –– offering anybody the opportunity to engage in a small fantasy, tracking Santa live as he makes his journey around the world.
It is also an interactive campaign; participants can telephone for updates or follow progress ‘live’ online.
Today, more than 1,200 NORAD staff volunteer their own time to answer the dedicated tracking telephone number, and with over one hundred thousand calls and some 20 million visits to the online tracker in 2014 alone, this seasonal tradition remains highly popular today.
Holiday Marketing Takeaway
If NORAD can track Santa Claus, why not boost your company image and engage your audience with some light-hearted (and data-driven) fun?