Monetizing the Fashion Santa brand

Paul Mason (aka Fashion Santa)

In the digital age, retailers have to invest heavily into brand and experience to make the trip to a store worthwhile for customers. Malls have to invest alongside retailers to support the shopping experience as best they can. Few malls are more successful at driving retail traffic than Toronto’ Yorkdale Shopping Centre which is ranked among the top five malls in North America according to sales per square foot – an impressive performance especially since Yorkdale seems to be in a continual state of expansion.

Dateline: Spring 2015. As Yorkdale was planning its Christmas marketing, management was approached by a local fashion model with a great branding idea. Paul Mason had been on the runways for 30 years, but had some recent success with an original new look. He had, of all things, grown a substantial white beard. Paul was thinking about his beard, and Christmas and flash…he had it. Why not marry Fashion and Santa Claus? Why not indeed! Yorkdale jumped on the Fashion Santa idea and plastered Paul’s face over every square inch of the mall. In addition, some of the local retailers decided to hire Paul for other gigs so, for a few months, it was hard to drive around the city and miss Paul’s face…or his charming white beard.

Toronto was only the beginning. Fashion Santa started taking selfies with customers to help raise money for The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and suddenly everyone wanted to be photographed with him. Paul took 88 hours worth of selfies with citizens and celebrities alike. Even Canada’s very own super celeb Justin Bieber took a shot with Fashion Santa. The images went around the world and before you knew it Fashion Santa was a global icon. All this buzz was the result of an intriguing look, a great idea and the ability of the internet to make things go ‘viral’.

But what is the value of this campaign to the brands involved? We often help our clients make decisions around marketing investment: should we reduce price or promote more? Should we advertise here or there…or should we just add sales people instead? While the science is getting better, it is still very difficult to be precise about the value of social media success, especially one without a call to action. I would bet that in this case the viral campaign was a profitable one. Many people probably came to the mall to meet Fashion Santa, or even just to see his face in a range of formats. The imagery of Fashion Santa drew positive associations for the Yorkdale brand for many people and for others it may have just reminded them of that great mall with the high-end stores that they like to visit. The value of all that publicity should be equally clear for Paul Mason. His face is now recognizable around the world and marketers of all types have an interest in association with his image, more so than before.

I had a chance to catch up with Paul recently. We spoke about the evolution of the idea for Fashion Santa, what it was like to become an internet sensation and what may be next for his brand. Listen to his story and share your thoughts with me via email mark@satov.ca or via Twitter @marksatov