What do Santa Claus, phone apps, Google, Microsoft and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (aka NORAD) have in common?
This time of year, quite a lot actually. Every Christmas Eve NORAD tracks Santa’s location as he delivers presents around the world, and children from over 200 countries follow his every move. You would be forgiven for thinking this is a new program dreamed up by a marketing team to promote a big toy brand, but NORAD’s Santa tracker has actually been going since 1955 and is the result of a marketing campaign gone slightly wrong.
The good old folks at Sears in Colorado Springs, USA had the lovely idea of inviting children to telephone Santa Claus on December 24th. To promote the campaign they printed a poster but someone got the phone number wrong and all the calls went through to Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command Center (aka CONAD). This is where the good natured Colonel Shoup, who happened to be on duty that night, comes in to play, as he told his staff to give Santa’s location to all the children who called in that night. The tradition took off and has been upheld by NORAD when they replaced CONAD in 1958.
Today children can track Santa Claus on a dedicated webpage (www.noradsanta.org) and for those waiting impatiently for his sleigh to take off, the site offers a countdown clock as well as videos, activities and a very interesting FAQ section, answering questions such as “When will Santa arrive at my house?”, “How does Santa get down a Chimney?” or for the more mechanically oriented kiddies there is a Sleigh Technical Data sheet.
So, how are Microsoft and Google involved? If you are a tech news geek like me, you will have undoubtedly come across titles such as “Microsoft buys Santa Claus” in the last few days. Since 2007 Google have helped NORAD track the man in red via Google maps, a dedicated YouTube channel and mobile phone apps. This year however it will be Microsoft’s Bing maps that will keep tabs on Kris Kringle although Google’s YouTube video channel is still present on NORAD’s website.
In the spirit of Christmas however, neither company charges for their services.
Google have not abandoned Santa Claus however and have launched their own Santa Tracking website (http://www.google.com/santatracker). To keep you entertained until the big day the site allows you to look at the elves hard at work and even play some games such as dropping presents into the sleigh.