The Santa Brand

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
Hollywood's biggest talent guru takes a crack at "branding" Santa Claus and everything about the holidays. Think Christmas is too commercial? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Submitted: January 02, 2012

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Submitted: January 02, 2012

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“The Santa Brand” A Short Story By Mark Goodin

 

Prologue From The New York Times, December, 10, 2010:

 

“Jets Cornerback Darrelle Revis is among a number of athletes who are seeking federal trademark protection for their names, nicknames and even their catchphrases. The slogans come in all varieties: trash-talking (“Stomp You Out,” claimed by the former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan); self-aggrandizing (“I Love Me Some Me,” registered by Bengals wide receiver Terrell Owens); self-deprecating (“Manny Being Manny,” claimed, and later abandoned, by the baseball slugger Manny Ramirez); and just plain weird (“Got Strange?” registered by Vikings defensive end Jared Allen). Revis said he filed to protect (his name) after discussing it with his agents and family, in part out of concern that others were profiting from it. “You’ve got to catch on to it, if you’re that high-profile type of player,” Revis said. “Basically, anybody can market themselves. It don’t matter if you’re a high-profile player or not. You can find a way to market yourself and get yourself out there.”

 

For 20 years, Harvey Stiles had been paying attention. He’d watched as more and more celebrities and athletes wanted bigger dollars and more protection for their names, their products and their endorsements. Paying attention to what stars wanted – often before they could give voice to it themselves – was just one reason that Harvey Stiles became the undisputed leader of his trade – an entertainment mogul with a billion-dollar Rolodex and a genius’ knack for making his clients rich beyond their wildest dreams. Stiles’ firm, Artist Group International, had negotiated some of the toughest deals in the world for some of the biggest and most eccentric glitterati in entertainment and athletics, and its president and CEO has always come out on top. Now Hollywood’s premier knuckle-buster and captain of the biggest star-making machine in the world, was working on a new client: Mr. Christmas. Santa Claus. And Harvey Stiles was preparing to bring his formidable powers of persuasion to bear on a world he believed has taken advantage of the jolly old elf for far too long. Think Christmas is too commercial? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

 

Bel Air, California. June, 2013.

“I don’t have time for this, Maybre! This ain’t ‘Let’s Make A Deal.’ It’s take-it-or-leave-it.” There was a long pause as whoever it was on the other end of the line spoke. Harvey Stiles took a sip of iced tea, lit an unfiltered cigarette and feigned attention, his right hand pretending to mouth the words like a naked sock puppet. Finally, Stiles interrupted. “Oh, stuff her! That self-righteous old witch can bust my chops in the trade rags all she wants. Listen carefully … are you listening Maybre? I … don’t … cave! It’s 20 million up-front or Tom walks, period. And by the way, if they keep messin’ around on this, I can make this whole deal go away, capiche?’”

Stiles slammed the phone down for dramatic effect and turned his attention to the heavy-set, bearded old man at the other end of the Louis XVI desk in the massive library of his mansion. He flashed an electric smile, with out-stretched, imploring hands – a gesture for which he had become famous, the “good-cop-after-the-bad-cop routine,” or so it had been dubbed by rival agents. “Now where were we?” he asked with a wink. “Something about making me Captain of My Destiny, I believe,” the Spirit of Christmas Present replied through slightly pursed lips.

Stiles sucked on his iced tea and crunched down on a piece of ice. “Yeah, yeah, right. What I’m really talking about is justice,” he quipped, the Bernini leather moccasin on his right foot bopping nervously up and down. “It’s time to bring the axe down on every jack-ass free-loader who’s ever donned a Santa suit in a Main Street Mall and never paid for the privilege.” A look of genuine consternation crossed Santa’s face. “Forget how for a moment,” he said. “Why in the world would I want to do that?”

Stiles’ ice-blue eyes focused intently on his guest, and he leaned forward across the desk, inches away from his world-renowned visitor. “Because, old boy, these low-lifes have been getting a free ride on your back for generations, that’s why. Was it them who suited up every year, braved the cold, the whatever of the weather in that ice cave you call a home, not to mention having to air-lift 200 million pounds of exported junk from China into homes around the world … and all in one friggin’ frost-bitten night? “Hell no!  It was all you! You founded the brand! You built it, Christmas by Christmas, and the whole Santa Claus schtick belongs to you. It’s time you got what’s coming to you …”Stiles raised his glass of tea in mock salute. “But, hey, I’m just sayin’.”

A pronounced silence fell over the room, punctuated only by the distant sounds of the kitchen staff preparing a “high tea” for later that afternoon. Santa stared intently at his host. He wanted specifics. “And exactly what does that entail, young man?”  Stiles laughed almost condescendingly. “It means enforcing the legal rights of your brand, man. You’re Santa Claus, for Goodness sake.” He cackled again, his hands in plaintive pleading toward the heavens. “Hey, that’s what the song says, right? I mean: Am I right?”

Claus looked confused, but picked up the pen on the desk and twirled it around in his hand. “It’s true,” he thought. “I’m not getting any younger.” His mind recoiled at the thought of no benefits at the end of the line, and the omnipresent fact that each year the job got harder and harder, and he with no successor or union. “No pension or 401K. No health insurance, either,” Claus recalled to himself. “(Hey remember that awful time trying to qualify for Medicare, and no one would take you seriously? We finally gave up and went home.) Maybe it was time to trade up, he thought.   Maybe the wife was right: All these years in the same job and nothing much to show for it. This Stiles guy was starting to make a whole lot of sense.

“So if you don’t me asking, what’s the catch?” Santa finally asked. “No catch,” Stiles said. “Just my standard 20 percent of all first-year revenues, and a point-and-half off the back end and any residuals resulting from syndication and secondary merchandizing. And then there’s the music royalties and buy-backs, plus a point-and-half for management expenses, offset, of course, by whatever legal fees you incur … It’s all right there in the contract.” He pushed the half-inch, neatly bound document across the table. “It’s the same deal I gave Sid Vicious … imminently fair, imminently fair.”

“And me … what do I do?” the Jovial One inquired with mounting interest.

“You be Santa, that’s what you do.” Another lull in the conversation settled over the library as Stiles, one hand on his cheek, studied what he hoped would be his newest talent acquisition. “It would require a wardrobe change, a real commitment to the costume,” Stiles lectured as he stood and walked a 360 around the big man, his index finger posed neatly on his chin for dramatic effect. “You’d have to lose the khaki slacks and sports jacket thing you’ve got going here, and really commit to the program.”

The bushy white eyebrows of the world’s most famous giver arched up in surprise. “You mean wear the uniform? All the time?”

Stiles chuckled. “You said it yourself: It’s a yun-e-form!” How else can we brand you?” His potential client suddenly sported a disapproving countenance, and Stiles wondered if he’d gone too far. “Look, it’s a pain-in-the-butt, I get it,” the agent added. “But hear me out: Did anybody even recognize you at the gate dressed like this when I buzzed you in?” Santa nodded in the negative, and Stiles literally lunged into the Great Giver’s personal space. “That’s my point! You’re only Santa if you wear the uniform,” he lectured. “You want to claim Santa’s rights, then you gotta be Santa every day. It’s the only way we brand you.”

“But I am Santa!” Claus replied, frustrated.

 Stiles put himself squarely in front of his guest and explained,  a pair of wireless reading glasses parked on his nose like a disapproving school teacher.  “Not according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Act!" he lectured.  "Quick: What’s a soldier without a uniform? Answer: Just a civilian, pal. What can I say?” the Uber-agent continued with a well-rehearsed sigh. “It’s the price you pay for success. Once we brand your visage …” “My what?” Claus nearly choked. “Your visage. You know, your face. Once we brand that you can probably get away with a few wardrobe lapses …”

“Stop right there!" Claus interrupted.  "I don’t do anything unclothed,” Stiles guffawed.  “No, no, no. I mean sans wardrobe, not clothes,” he retorted. The genius of Hollywood was hard at work, his mind pouring over the possibilities. He paced quicker now, walking around his desk and stopping suddenly, like a dog marking his territory. “We could even work in a few plot lines for the tabloids to help out,” he finally proffered. “Picture this: Headline under photo of Santa on the French Riviera. It reads: “The Spirit of Christmas takes a Holiday!” You, a few bikini-clad babes on the beach … all playing volley ball or some other sandy exercise. Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

Stiles slapped his hand to his forehead in mock surprise. “For Pete’s sake! I swear I’d lose my head if it wasn’t screwed on! I almost forgot the best part. “

“And that would be?” Santa answered, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. “We’re going to begin legally sanctifying the title, `Mister Christmas.' Just like Reggie Jackson. Remember, “Mr. October?” You’ll be Mr. Christmas, pretty cool, huh?” Stiles caught himself in mid-sentence. “Only Reggie wasn’t smart enough to protect his brand. The guy lost millions,” he muttered in disgust. “Hey, we all live and learn.”

Claus waved him off. “People will sue the you-know-what out of me!”

“And that’s why I’ve got an army of lawyers,” the agent mumbled as he lit his cigar, a cloud of blue smoke drifting into the air. “We bury ‘em all in legal technicalities, tie them up in continuance after continuance, until: Bingo! Surrender. My guys are already working on protecting virtually every Christmas catch-phrase there is – Father Christmas, Jolly Old Elf, Kris Kringle … my God man, we’re gonna own em all!”

A subconscious cash register was beginning to ring in the old man’s brain, and his face registered grudging admiration.

Harvey knew capitulation when he saw it. He was a master of reading his clients, and this old man was no exception. He reached across the desk with an out-stretched hand. “Trust me, old boy. It’s time to take what’s yours. When I’m finished, you’ll get a cut of every beard, every red cap and every big-black-and-silver-buckled-belt out there. You’ll own it all – outright -- the same way the NFL owns the Super Bowl, and Ochocinco owns … well, Ochocinco!”

“Cinco-what?” asked Santa incredulously. Stiles brushed the question aside. “Never mind. All you gotta know is this: One year from today every putz that ever wanted to play Santa will have to play ball with us first! Now who loves you, baby?”

-----------------------------------------------------------------

One Year Later:

Harvey Stiles was true to his word. “Mr. Christmas” became just that – the legal proprietor of everything Santa. AGI lawyers filed the necessary papers and prepared to do battle with anyone – and everyone – that got in their way. Their tactics were ruthless. Every storefront Santa without an officially licensed Santa Claus suit was hauled into court, and in most cases, served with a lawsuit right there on the premises. The legal standoffs became lead stories on the network news, and with them, a chilling effect descended on every Santa in every town, large and small. Royalties rolled in like the Crimson Tide, and at 15 hundred bucks a costume, it was serious dough. Stiles even bought the rights to the James Brown classic, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” and redubbed the hit, “Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” with the tune becoming the sales pitch in a blizzard of television and Internet spots hawking the one, the only, the “Official Santa Suit.” And then Stiles had the Big One – the idea that surpassed all others. A class action suit against every major department store that had ever hosted a Santa, with compensation for lost wages for the past 50 years and pain and suffering totaling more than $100 billion. “Fifty years was fair,” Stiles argued at one press conference following the approval of his 150th trademark application for the Santa Brand. The concept of Santa Claus had been around for hundreds of years, in one iteration or another. “They should count their damn blessings I didn’t make it a century.” “And I could have, too,” he smirked to himself.

Even if most of the companies settled for a tenth of the lawsuit, Klaus and Harvey Stiles could die happy men -- right there and then. A billion bucks was a whole lot of cash. Ten billion was more than the mind could comprehend, even by Hollywood’s excessive standards. He’d tie them up in court for years, sneered Stiles. And the holdouts? “They’d be begging for a settlement before it was all over with.” Practicing his putting on a private green in his backyard, Stiles felt pretty good about life. It was too soon to start counting his chickens, but the eggs looked pretty darnn good.

Stiles’ butler, a cordless phone in the hand, interrupted his train of thought. “For you, sir. A Rabbi Kravitz, from B’nai B'rith International.” Irritation registered on Stiles’ face. He surrendered his putter in exchange for the cell phone. “Yes?”

“Mr. Stiles?” the Rabbi asked.

“I said, yes. I’m busy, what do you want?” The other end of the conversation nervously cleared his throat. “Sir, I am empowered to inquire how much it would cost my organization to own the legal rights to the Hebrew Festival of Lights.”

Stiles’ top lip curled slyly, and his tone of voice warmed instantly. Like everything else in the world of entertainment and professional athletics, all it took was for one big deal to become the standard-bearer. Then everybody wanted in. This caller had just re-confirmed that maxim, and Harvey Stiles was suddenly seeing more dollar signs.

“So you want the Santa deal, is that it?” The Rabbi was unnerved by the directness of the question. “You come right to the point.” “I find it saves everybody a lot of time,” Stiles answered. “Well,” the cleric stammered, “some in my organization believe your route to be the only way of preserving what is uniquely ours, what is uniquely a Jewish holiday. “However indelicately some may think of this, we – er, I, in particular – believe we must protect our legal rights in this -- shall we say, supremely selfish age?”

Stiles couldnt help but smile.  “Well said, Rabbi, well said,” he interjected in a smooth voice, already quietly adding up the potential percentages of a new holiday deal. He strolled slowly back to his desk, the phone cradled between his cheek and shoulder, and picked up the still-smoldering cigar. “You’d certainly want to license the term “Hanukkah,” as well as all derivative spellings like Chanukah and what not. I’m Googling it now,” Stiles added, tapping an inquiry into his desktop computer.

“Just as I suspected,” said Stiles. “There are four different spellings of the same holiday.” The Rabbi’s voice lifted an octave in obvious interest. “That’s correct. Please go on …” “What about those tiny top things made out of clay, the, the … what are those things?,” queried Stiles as he snapped his fingers multiple times in frustration. “Dreidels?” the Rabbi replied matter-of-factly. “Right! There must be, what – ten, twelve million of those sold each year … ?” “More than that, young man, I’m quite certain.”

Like Christmas, the Hanukkah math was starting to become very interesting. Stiles wanted more time to think. But he had the basic outline of the deal in his head, unless he was missing something. “What about that candelabra thing, the Menorah?” “We’d want it protected, of course,” the Rabbi replied. “That said,” Stiles droned on, can you meet tomorrow at noon for lunch? I should have some more particulars by then.” Before Kravitz could say goodbye, Stiles clicked the off button on the phone and leaned back in his desk chair, extremely pleased with himself. A popular tune jumped into his head and he hummed along. “It’s beginning /to look/a-lot/ like Christ/mas …”

The law was in Harvey Stiles corner, even if no one else was.


© Copyright 2017 Mark Goodin. All rights reserved.

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