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