To relay a more inclusive approach to the holiday season, Old Navy is debuting its “Happy ALL-idays” campaign with help from actress and singer Keke Palmer. The aim is to shake up holiday stereotypes.
The retailer’s effort to commemorate a wider range of celebrations and traditions includes a Santa training program for people of any ethnicity or cultural heritage who would like to play the role of Santa Claus professionally, in their community or for their families. Registration kicks off online Tuesday for Old Navy’s Santa Bootcamp. Old Navy recruited School4Santas’ founder and owner Timothy Connaghan to develop the 30-minute virtual course, which will be held on Nov. 19.
Less than 5 percent of professional Santas in the U.S. identify as people of color, according to Connaghan. And half of the children under the age of 15 identify as nonwhite. The history and legends of St. Nicholas evolved over nearly 17 centuries and created a stereotype of a 70-ish white male with a white beard, Connaghan wrote in an essay, “Why Isn’t There More Diversity in Santa Claus?” In the beginning of the 20th century, many companies relied on Santa Claus as the perfect salesman to pitch their products. The strongest imagery for Santa Claus in advertising was created by artist Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in the 1930s. Those images appeared in ads, major magazines, in-store displays, billboards, buses and other outdoor advertising.
Naturally, there’s a need for the imagery to evolve to better reflect the faces across America, and for the holiday season, Santa Claus and what he says and does, will be a key point for embracing greater diversity and inclusion.
As part of the Santa bootcamp, there will be tips on how to respond to children’s Santa-related questions, essential phrases in both sign language and Spanish, and prime photo-taking tips. Dion Sinclair, who is known as “Santa Dee” or “The Real Black Santa;” Bob Torres, a 38-year bilingual Santa veteran, and Brian Butler, who is recognized as “Soulful Santa,” will be part of the training program.
Old Navy will enlist a range of Santa Bootcamp graduates to appear in three of its flagships — New York City’s Herald Square, San Francisco’s Market Street location and Chicago’s State Street store for socially distanced photo moments on Dec. 4. The San Francisco-based company has more than 1,200 stores internationally.
Executives at Old Navy were not available for a phone interview about the new campaign Monday, according to a spokesperson for Old Navy.
Holiday spending is likely to increase this year with consumers expected to spend $598 versus the $539 they were expected to spend last year, according to Accenture’s annual Holiday Shopping Survey. Many shoppers are getting a jump on the season due to concerns about shipping delays and inventory shortages. Older Millennials between the ages of 32 and 39 plan to spend on average $705 — the highest amount of any age group polled in the survey.
York University distinguished research professor Russell Belk addressed the impact that featuring Santa Claus in advertising has on sales.
“It depends on the product/service and the execution. Anything indulgent, happy or child-oriented should work,” he said, adding that years ago Santa Claus was even used in cigarette advertising. “But today guns would be taboo, unless in a very specialized outdoor magazine. A clever execution works where a humdrum ad just adds to Christmas ad fatigue.”
The training program was inspired by Old Navy’s “Jingle Jammies,” in particular the skin-tone Santa prints, which were first offered last year. That rollout was done with Gap Inc.’s Color Proud Council, an employee group that is part of the company’s Equality & Belonging team. Building on that, the company has broadened its product offerings to play up inclusivity through different styles including menorah print and rainbow-stripe pajamas that retail online and in Old Navy stores from $10 to $40.
Continuing its annual tradition of investing in the next generation through the brand’s This Way ONward program, Old Navy is donating $1 million through the Imagine Mission Fund. To date, Old Navy has provided jobs and mentoring to 10,000-plus diverse young people and expects to reach its goal of providing 20,000 jobs by 2025. Ninety percent of participants self-identify as a person of color, according to the company.
The ALL-idays campaign includes two commercials featuring Palmer and diverse families enjoying different holiday traditions, such as building colorful “snowpeople,” and smashing a piñata. Starting Nov. 16 and running through Dec. 21 via Old Navy’s Instagram account, weekly social media takeovers are also planned with select influencers offering their favorite holiday traditions for Friendsgiving, challah recipes and Elf on the Shelf.