Toronto Star

New-age Clauses

Shoppers warm up to alternativ­e Santas,

- FRANCINE KOPUN BUSINESS REPORTER

Mrs. Claus is taking centre stage at Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket this Christmas. And Santa? Let’s just say he’s started taking physical fitness to heart.

“Women are the unsung heroes of Christmas,” said Upper Canada Mall marketing director Jennifer Kleinberg, explaining the mall’s decision to launch a thoroughly modern Mrs. Claus character for the holiday season.

“We thought it was time for Mrs. Claus to step into the spotlight.”

Upper Canada’s Mrs. Claus is trim and fashionabl­e this year, and she is not the only member of the family to get a makeover. Toronto model Paul Mason, who sports a natural white beard, is Fashion Santa at Yorkdale this year, a position he took up in 2014.

It’s a trend that looks to be internatio­nal. Belk, a department store with 300 locations in the southeaste­rn U.S., is running a television-ad campaign featuring a male model in a red suit jacket granting wishes as he walks through a store, dazzling shoppers as the song “Santa Baby” plays.

It’s been a hit with the chain’s mostly female customer base. “It’s becoming a new tradition with us,” said Jon Pollack, executive vice-president of marketing, sales promotion and e-commerce for the privately held Belk, Inc.

“It’s whimsical, it’s fun. It does grab your attention because he’s a good-looking guy, but it’s tongue-in-cheek, it’s meant to be lightheart­ed.”

It was customers who first started calling the character Santa Baby, said Pollack. “We just went with it; customers loved it.”

In Australia in 2013, a Sydney shopping mall introduced “Hipster Santa” with his own workshop. The wry spin on Santa was a social-media hit and helped increase foot traffic 137 per cent and retail sales by 85 per cent, according to figures from the agency behind the idea, BMF.

But is it wise to mess with the traditiona­l Claus?

“I think retail is fun and entertaini­ng and needs to keep current. They’re not giving up the tradition, they are maintainin­g a lot of the elements. They are expanding the tradition,” said Arthur Fleischman­n, partner and chief execu- tive officer of the advertisin­g agency John St.

“I’m as politicall­y correct as the next guy. But you can also go too far in the other direction and be slavish to tradition. This is just a nice twist.”

Upper Canada Mall’s Mrs. Claus, a mom of two young children who also goes by the name of Amara Mancuso, runs the Annette Food Market and the Good Neighbour Espresso Bar in the Junction. She says she immediatel­y loved the idea of being Mrs. Claus when she was approached about the concept.

When Mancuso, 33, was growing up, Mrs. Claus was a background figure in holiday stories, fixing Santa’s suit or baking.

“I still remember playing the role of Mrs. Claus in my first-grade holiday concert. The play was all about Santa; I had two lines in a supporting role. I am excited that this time around, Mrs. Claus has a leading role,” said Mancuso, a former model, and the blogger and Instagramm­er behind Lace and Braids.

“Christmas is not magic; it takes a lot of preparatio­n. It’s 2015, the household responsibi­lities in my home are shared; my husband and I do all the work, cooking, raising kids and everything and yet, when it comes to the holidays, I am the driving force behind carrying on the traditions,” said Mancuso.

At Yorkdale, Mason is not replacing traditiona­l Santa, who will appear this year as he does each holidays.

Adult customers who see Mason in his spot in front of Hudson’s Bay and Harry Rosen immediatel­y understand that he is a perfect fit for a mall focused on fashion, said Yorkdale marketing director Lucia Connor.

Mason said he loves the role of Fashion Santa and steers clear of children so they don’t confuse him with the real Santa Claus.

“I do my best to stay away from the Swarovski Crystal Wonderland environmen­t at Yorkdale where Santa hosts his visits with children. Adults are really my focus,” Mason wrote in an email to the Star.

Mason has been a model for 30 years and said he grew his white beard as a tribute to his mother.

“The beard became a success in fashion circles. I couldn’t help but see similariti­es between my white beard and Santa and thought that a high-end brand might want to play with the concept as an alternativ­e to the traditiona­l Santa,” wrote Mason.

Mason reached out to Yorkdale, where, as it happened, the marketing director was also reaching out to him after coming across a picture of him in Toronto Life.

At U.S. chain Belk, customers sent 1.6 million e-cards last holiday season featuring Santa Baby, said Pollack. Another 26,000 shared the pictures on social media. The response to this year has been equally successful. There is no Mrs. Claus at Belk. “Our customer base is female. They really like it. We are playing to our base. Mrs. Claus? It works for us that she’s not part of this campaign,” said Pollack.

“It’s nice to reinvent and innovate.”

 ?? MARCUS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR ?? Amara Mancuso, who plays the role of Mrs. Claus at Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, immediatel­y loved the idea of portraying the North Pole matriarch when she was approached.
MARCUS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR Amara Mancuso, who plays the role of Mrs. Claus at Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, immediatel­y loved the idea of portraying the North Pole matriarch when she was approached.
 ?? BMF AGENCY ?? In 2013, an Australian “Hipster Santa” was a social media hit, and helped increase foot traffic at Sydney’s Central Mall by 137 per cent.
BMF AGENCY In 2013, an Australian “Hipster Santa” was a social media hit, and helped increase foot traffic at Sydney’s Central Mall by 137 per cent.

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