Co-branding, the art of two brands joining forces to sell products, often makes for some odd bedfellows: snacks and video games, chain diners and blockbuster movies, killer whales and airlines, and hotels and motorcycles. These odd pairings certainly get a lot of attention (which is essentially the point), but co-branding is far more widespread: Betty Crocker mixes with Hershey’s chocolate and Reese’s Peanut Butter, Dell computers with Intel inside, Samsung phones powered by Android. Co-branding is everywhere. This time of year, though, gives us a chance to consider the most co-opted brand in history: Christmas itself.

If Santa Claus wasn’t in the toy business, he could make a killing in marketing. Christmas has become one of the most widespread, beloved, and enduring brands in history, reaching an audience far broader than the faithful. The holiday has easily recognizable icons, symbols, and well-known color schemes that evoke common feelings across huge swaths of the population. Most importantly, they also have the ability to prompt consumer spending on an unmatched scale.

With that kind of commercial sway, Christmas is reliably the biggest event in retail every year. Everywhere you look, stores and their respective sites are festooned with holly, bows, and other seasonal decorations. But the true power of the Yuletide brand extends beyond equating Christmas spirit with Christmas spending: and co-branding with Christmas often goes beyond pitching presents.

This is a time of year when we as a culture grow more reflective, more nostalgic, and more social. We sing songs about peace on earth and goodwill to men. We watch It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street and old stop-motion cartoons. We throw more parties than we can keep up with. In that spirit, many brands take a moment to connect with their clientele through some genuine holiday cheer. It’s the perfect opportunity for some positive brand interaction.

Ultimately, there are almost as many ways to co-brand Christmas as there are to celebrate it. Here are some of our favorite Christmas co-opts through the years.

  • Our own contribution to the holiday co-branding craze this year was a partnership with Kingfish Media to develop a Holiday CMS site for Boston Market.
  • Starbucks capitalizes on the American holiday tradition of hot drinks with friends and family. Their stores are always decorated for a cozy chat on a snowy day, and their promotions include a two-for-one drink offer. Starbuck’s rekindle holiday microsite includes coupons, holiday blends, and a fairly involved Facebook app.
  • In 2010, law firm Parker Poe set up 2010wishes.com, a charming site that crowd-sourced goodwill to men
  • Tiffany & Co. plays up nostalgia with a classic black and white video that invokes Bing Crosby
  • Pandora knows what its listeners are looking for this time of year, and has set up easy access to holiday stations at the top of the page
  • ElfYourself started out a few years back as a clever Flash piece, but it’s evolved into a big push for OfficeMax, including a Facebook experience and a mobile app.
  • And finally, my favorite Christmas co-brand of all time. It’s a co-branded co-brand, where Santa, rice cereal, and a modern stone age family collide in one of the most regrettably memorable commercials of all time. Seriously, I saw this ad so many times during my childhood that I can sing this better than most legitimate Christmas carols. I still find it strangely heartwarming to this day. (This ad narrowly beat out a similar spot from the same era, when Ronald skates with that kid nobody likes.)

What are your favorite Christmas co-brands?

Did your company do a special holiday promotion?

Let us know in the comments below.