I’m OK, you’re OK: The story of OK Soda

Sodapalooza

OK Soda logoI’ve been surprised at how popular my history of New Coke articles have been since I wrote them almost three years ago (Oct 2006).  I constantly have people linking and reading the three part saga.  It was fun to write and it was one of my favorite articles on this blog.  So, I thought to myself, why not do a “sequel” to the New Coke articles?  I mean, my energy drink reviews started off as a one-shot article and they became popular enough that I did four of them (and I’m considering doing another). I mean, soda has been one of the tenets this blog was built on.  I talk about new soda flavors, graphics and packaging, as well as wax nostalgic on sodas that are no longer available.  So what soda am I going to pull from the mists of the past?  I’m going to mine the Coke back catalog one more time to discuss OK Soda.

In the early ’90s, Coke was still smarting from the marketing stink bomb that was New Coke. Coke regained its older demographic with the switch to Coca-Cola Classic, but the younger teen generation was still scoffing at the stodgy, elder soda company. Greatly needing to boost their share of the highly coveted Gen-X demographic, Coca-Cola decided to try something new.

OK Soda vending machine

Robert Goizueta was still CEO of Coke in 1993 (despite the New Coke debacle). He rehired the marketing executive Sergio Zyman (who actually was fired for the New Coke debacle) to revamp the can designs for the entire coke line. This was successful enough that Goizueta allowed Zyman to try something different. Marketing research done by Zyman’s group discovered that Coke was the second most recognized word across all languages. The first? OK. Zyman conceived of a soda completely different from Coke with the name OK, along with a counter-intuitive ad campaign that targeted people who didn’t like advertising. Zyman was so assured of this soda’s potential success he promised Goizueta that it would garner at least 4% of the US market.

To begin with, OK Soda was released only to a select few test markets. This is a common practice with new sodas where companies will release new products to areas that are generally “friendly” to their brand to determine potential popularity. Coke designed four different cans for OK Soda and released all four versions to all the test markets. The artwork was based on current “pop” art that was popular at the time using mostly blacks, grays and reds along with a bland looking silver can (see pic below).

The cans were designed by artists from the Fantagraphics publishing company who were creating popular books, magazines and comics at the time. On the can you could find odd bits of trivia, called “Coincidence” and one of several 800 numbers that could be called to hear and leave a voice message. Messages left by curious teenagers and adults were sometimes used in the ad campaigns.  You could also find on some cans (including written on the inside) pieces of what was called the OK Manifesto.  The Manifesto was made up of strange, philosophical-type sayings that meant nothing.

The OK Manifesto included such nuggets of OK-ness as

1. What’s the point of OK? Well, what’s the point of anything?
2. OK Soda emphatically rejects anything that is not OK, and fully supports anything that is.
3. The better you understand something, the more OK it turns out to be.
4. OK Soda says, “Don’t be fooled into thinking there has to be a reason for everything.”
5. OK Soda reveals the surprising truth about people and situations.
6. OK Soda does not subscribe to any religion, or endorse any political party, or do anything other than feel OK.
7. There is no real secret to feeling OK.
8. OK Soda may be the preferred drink of other people such as yourself.
9. Never overestimate the remarkable abilities of “OK” brand soda.
10. Please wake up every morning knowing that things are going to be OK.

Despite releasing the new soda to only a few test cities, the advertising and media hype for OK Soda went national. Zyman felt that this would create a “buzz” about the soda and drive up demand.  Strange commercials were shown all over the country touting the philosophy of OK Soda while barely letting on it was a soda that was being advertised. Here’s one of the OK Soda TV spots:

This ad campaign, as stated earlier, was generated towards the more cynical Gen-X and Gen-Y markets. It was this anti-advertising campaign that may have spelled the doom of the erstwhile soda. While the 800 numbers became wildly popular with teens, the drink failed to catch fire. Coca-Cola would pull the plug on the whole endeavor, officially, in 1995. As with most things that get discontinued, it has developed a small, but very rabid cult following. The newsgroup alt.fan.ok-soda was popular for many years after the soda’s death until taken over by alternative rock band fans and porn advertisements. Many alt rock bands will mention the soda as well as hipster books, poetry and TV shows.

While not considered as large a failure as New Coke, OK Soda is still used as an example of corporations trying to, unsuccessfully, capture the ever changing youth market.

OK Soda box

So, what did it taste like? I never personally tried it, but reviews online say it was like a watered down fruit punch flavored Fresca. It seems like everyone thought the flavor was, poetically, just “OK”. The advertising company behind the marketing made no attempts to hide the fact they were selling everyone on the “feeling” of the soda, not the taste.

As far as I know, OK never made it past the test markets and no one is speculating that it was repackaged as any other soda (maybe Black Cherry Fresca?). However you can still find cans, questionnaires and shirts on eBay from time to time. I actually do not have an OK soda can in my collection…yet. Trust me, I’m on the lookout for one.

I did a lot of the research for this article on Wikipedia as well as on many defunct websites.

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33 Responses to “I’m OK, you’re OK: The story of OK Soda”

  1. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of this. Sounds neat!

  2. StarGrrl Says:

    I vaguely remember OK soda. My mind wants to tell me it tasted like a concoction of Dr. Pepper, regular Coke and a bit of cherry 7-up.

    • StarGrrl, I vaguely remember it also. For some reason, in my mind it tasted very similar to a less carbonated Black Cherry Fresca.

  3. Medicine Says:

    Ok was one of my favorite sodas. It tasted like Orange soda mixed with Dr Pepper. I miss it…

  4. Marketing people are so much into trends that they forget to be in the moment. OK Soda is so perfect an example of understanding a segment (Gen-X/Gen-Y) and a position (“Coke” trailing universal recognition behind “OK”) that it forgot to be GOOD. I’d rather be caught up in the moment than be trying to manipulate a message for mass adoption any day. In fact, no one did the later better than the Nazi propagandists – not a group I want to associate my name with!

  5. I remember ok and loved it. that was my drink. I was sad when they pulled it. Btw I do have a life just so you know. lol

  6. Katie Baptiste Says:

    I remember this distinctly and no one else I know seems to. I’ve searched high and low on the internet for some of those hilariously bad commercials where people called in and talked about their experiences with OK Soda. Does anyone know where I could find these??

  7. I was very young when they tested OK in my town. I loved it! I remember it coming in a plastic and/or glass bottle

  8. Thanks for a wonderful post, l ve been looking for such information, I will join jour rss feed now.

  9. I really loved this. It has been very informative as well as useful. I’ll come back to check on future posts.

  10. Can’t say I remember any of this… but that’s OK.

    The whole article? That’s OK, too.

    Any idea where any of the test markets might have been? Were any in the state of OK?

    Alright, enough of that. Just wanted to add that my favorite part of this is that the logo looks like someone took the letters “C” and “E” off the left and right sides, respectively.

  11. ANTHONY Says:

    OK soda is basically Coca Cola Classic & Orange Soda.
    mix it…try it…its OK

  12. There are a couple of full cans of OK on ebay right now. The starting bids on both is $9.99. You might just get your OK can!

  13. I have perhaps confessed this to five people other than the ones that were there, but I was the poster boy for the OK test marketing. I was paid by Wieden + Kennedy to sell out my generation, and it tasted like Dr. Pepper mixed with Orange Crush. They gave me a shitload of that stuff.

  14. I lived in one of the markets that had OK. Saved one can when we heard it was discontinued. Still looks good for 16 years later.
    COINCIDENCE #382
    “IN HER THIRD WEEK OF MOURNING A DYING ROMANCE, KAT J. OF BOSTON BOUGHT A 12 PACK OF “OK” AT HER CORNER STORE. AFTER A FEW CANS SHE HAD DIFFICULTY RECALLING THE NAME OF HER EX. AFTER ANOTHER CAN, KAT STOPPED CHECKING HER ANSWERING MACHINE OBSESSIVELY. BY THE END OF THE WEEK, A FEELING OF “OK-NESS” HAD OVERCOME HER AND SHE HAS GIVEN VERY LITTLE THOUGHT TO EVENTS THAT HAPPENED BEFORE SHE DRANK “OK”.”

    Me too…

  15. Email Coca-Cola and ask them to bring back OK SODA!!!! I did, however futile it may be.

  16. Minnesota, well maybe just the Minneapolis / St. Paul area, was one of the test markets and when I tasted OK soda, I fell in love with it. Coca Cola made a lot of money from me buying OK soda.

    I would love to see them bring it back…even for a limited time would be wonderful.

  17. Austin, TX was a test area. I remember a bill board for OK Soda on highway 620. Something about being able to see through walls if you drink enough OK Soda. I got it a few times out of a vending machine and only remember that it tasted absolutely horrible. I never took more than a sip or two. Reminded me of Big Red which I also dislike. Someone commented to me that it tasted like watered-down “Minute Maid.”

  18. Fargo, ND was one of the test markets. I remember my brother and I not only loved the goofiness of the advertising and marketing campaign, but we also loved the taste. Some people would comment to us on how gross they thought it tasted, but it did have a unique taste that appealed to us. Hey, I used to hate the taste of Cherry Coke, and now it is one of my favorites. Wish they’d bring OK pop back.

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  22. Still feeling OK. Says:

    I still have a case of unopened 16oz bottles of this stuff in my basement. Most are gray label bottles but 2 have black labels, why did they do that?

  23. OK soda was a staple of the local bowling alley teen lock-ins where I grew up. I loved it and no one I know remembers it but me…It tasted like the dregs from the barrels of every flavor of soda mixed together. It reminds me of bowling, indoor trampolines, sour cream and cheddar Ruffles, my first encounter with a boy, and staying up all night.

  24. [...] soda history: 1. Misunderstood: The Saga of New Coke 2. The Story of OK Soda 3. Pepsi Patio: The Secret Origin of Diet Pepsi Share this [...]

  25. [...] to a then-still culturally incubating Gen X market. Included in this advertising onslaught was a manifesto, a 1-800 number to call for fortune-cookie-like-nuggets of anti-wisdom, and cans with design by [...]

  26. You can make OK Soda *today*. 3 parts orange, 1 part coke. I have a theory that this drink spawned hipsters… but it’s just a theory so far. Minneapolis being a test market… it totally makes sense.

  27. I have three cans that are unopened buy have leaked out. Look me up on Facebook – Gary Antley

  28. It was in the vending machines at my high school. There were a few randomly placed cans of it that contained not OK soda but an OK Soda hat, a sticker or something and 50 cents to buy a new can o’ pop. I bought one from one of my classmates for a few bucks but all the OK stuff is long gone. I’m OK with it but they should totally make OK again.

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