Can SantaCon Reform Its Drunken Rep?

How far is too far gone, when you're talking about reputation management?


If you live in or around New York City, you know what SantaCon is: an annual holiday tradition in which a bunch of people set upon the boroughs dressed in Santa costumes getting progressively more drunk and gross as the afternoon wears on. Perhaps you’ve woken in the morning to a puddle of vomit on your front stoop, a care package from a pub crawling St. Nick who doesn’t know his limits.

This weekend, the organization behind this yearly bacchanal sought to take the first steps to dispel this reputation with a press conference on Saturday morning reaffirming what SantaCon is really about: a protest against the commercialization of Christmas. Really? Had no clue. Thought it was always just a chance to get your drink on while wearing a costume, like Halloween but a couple months later. So what’s this protest you speak of?

“Christmas is not about running each other over on Black Friday, Christmas is about generosity and family and community,” Gothamist quotes one organizer. “Where SantaCon came from was absurdity, culture-jamming and making fun of society and being a bit outrageous. Quite frankly Manhattan could use a bit more of it. SantaCon is one of the few edgy things left in Manhattan. It’s getting pretty boring out here.

“It’s not all ten dollar Santa suits, there’s a lot of creative stuff!” that organizer continued. Nope.

That same organizer blames “frat boys” for hijacking the event and giving it a bad name. But a few bad apples can’t upend your brand unless you let them. And up to this point, the organizers seemed happy to let things happen without intervening.

So this year, they hired Norman Siegel, the attorney who most recently represented Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was quarantined by Gov. Chris Christie. And he led the 9 am press conference on Saturday. But he emphasized the First Amendment rights of SantaCon.

“It doesn’t matter what the content of their message is. The First Amendment means that the government cannot prohibit [SantaCon’s] expression. They can reasonably regulate their expression, but they can’t prohibit it, that would be censorship,” Siegel said. That’s different from the issue highlighted by the Santa organizer. More importantly, no one was trying to censor the message. It’s the drunken ridiculousness that people had a problem with.

Gothamist says the event raised $60,000 last year through donations $10 donations from participants and donations from participating bars, who must make good money during the event. And this year, in a civic-minded mood, the event was scaled back to make room for the massive protests against police brutality that took place.

It’s not too late for SantaCon to reform its tarnished reputation. But it’s going to have to stick with the effort and proactively weed out the Santas that are joining in, taking the festivities too far, and causing a ruckus. It might even have to become something slightly different and more in line with the reputation it’s trying to put forward. There was talk this weekend of a parade. A new look might lead to a brand refresh.