I just received my FULL can of OK Soda in the mail from an E-by auction I won, so I thought I’d share with you a little of the fabled soda’s short, strange history.
On April 20th, 1994, Coca-Cola announced the launch of OK to combat the sluggish sales that Coke and Pepsi were experiencing. This slump was also responsible for another beloved-but-failed soda a few years earlier: Crystal Pepsi. Both OK and Crystal tried to tap into new markets, attempting to appeal to those not interested in traditional colas. In Pepsi’s case, it was the misguided notion that “anything clear must seem healthier”, thus snagging intake conscious consumers and possibly some of those bottled water drinkers that took a bite out of PepsiCo’s profits. In Coke’s case they decided to go after a slightly different demo: Generation X.
After the New Coke debacle of the mid 1980’s, Coca Cola was a little skiddish about rocking the boat with new products. Sure, they won back the consumer when they resorted back to the original formula, but the people who made a real stink over New Coke were the old timers: people who grew up with Coke. The visceral hatred for New Coke had every bit to do with the feeling the drink conjured up as much as it did with the actual taste. To nab some fresh blood, Coca-cola was going to created a soda specifically for the 12-25 year old crowd. And they were going to sell it not on taste, but on feeling.
In perhaps one of the strangest moments of the story, Coca Cola decided to hire back Sergio Zyman in 1993. Zyman was the marketing executive behind New Coke and one of the first fired for the colossal blunder. One of his first tasks back was to redesign the cans and advertising campaigns of Coke and Diet Coke. After these successes, Zyman was allowed to go off and create new potential products for the company.
While coming up with his new soda, Zyman learned that according to market research, “Coke” was the second-most recognized word in the world. “OK” was the first. With that kind of name recognition, it only made sense to call the drink “OK Soda”. With the name decided on, Zyman then set out to change the way the product would be marketed.
The stereotypes surrounding Generation Xers (those in the coveted marketing demographic) include having a cynical nature, skepticism to the media, and a general frustration with traditional mores. To sum up, it’s a difficult bunch to successfully advertise to. Even more so because in the early 90’s, no one had even really tried to.
OK Soda attempted to market itself with a campaign mocking traditional soft-drink sales pitches. The idea was to be honest and say, “Yeah, you’re totally being manipulated into buying this product.” The actual goal was to persuade consumers that OK was a too-cool-for-school soda rebel made by indie folks, not by a large corporate behemoth like Coca Cola.
For its initial launch, Coca-Cola commissioned Fantagraphics, a publisher of alternative comics and graphic novels, to design four cans. Each of these cans only used black, gray, white, and red coloring and featured artwork and various sayings, such as: “OK Soda says, ‘Don’t be fooled into thinking there has to be a reason for everything”. These were part of the OK Manifesto. Others include:
- Never overestimate the remarkable abilities of “OK” brand soda.
- Please wake up every morning knowing that things are going to be OK.
- OK Soda emphatically rejects anything that is not OK, and fully supports anything that is.
- What’s the point of OK? Well, what’s the point of anything?
Also on each can was a “Coincidence”. The can I purchased on E-bay includes the following:
The night he first tried “OK” Soda, Rick B. of Aurora, Colorado put a full can under his pillow and went to sleep. He dreamed he was crawling through an endless gravel pit, parched with thirst. When he awoke, his thirst had disappeared, and he felt strangely satisfied. NOTE: the can of “OK”, still unopened, was empty. This is only a coincidence.
Cans listed a toll free number to call: 1-800-I-FEEL-OK, where people could leave OK-related messages. Later, television commercials for OK would occasionally feature some voicemails left on the line. The most infamous was from Pam. H who said:
“Ah, this is Pam H. from Newton, Massachusetts, and I resent you saying that everything is going to be O.K. You don’t know anything about my life. You don’t know what I’ve been through in the last month. I really resent it. I’m tired of you people trying to tell me things that you don’t have any idea about. I resent it. ((Click!))”. (from wikipedia)
I found a bunch of old soundbytes from 1-800-I-FEEL-OK. Take a listen and you too will agree: Things are going to be OK.
Zyman predicted that OK would take about 4% of the beverage market in areas where OK Soda was being test marketed. Unfortunately, after 7 months, that number barely reached 3%. The soda was considered a failure and a national rollout never materialized. According to a 1995 newspaper article:
The Coca-Cola Company will gradually phase out sales of its OK soda, which it started selling on a trial basis last year. A Coca-Cola spokesman, Randy Donaldson, said on Monday that the company had sold more than one million cases since its introduction in July 1994. That was not enough to keep the product going, he said. “We just didn’t generate the type of profitable volume we needed with OK, so we decided not to continue it in those test markets,” he said.
I wonder if OK Soda would have been a little more successful today. I think we’re all more used to strange and alternative marketing tactics and because of that the soda might have found a wider appeal. For those of you wondering what it tasted like, according to Wikipedia:
OK Soda had a more “citric” taste than traditional colas, almost like a Fruit Punch version of Coke’s Fresca. It has been described as “slightly spicy” and likened to a combination of orange soft drink and flat Coca-Cola.
Dammit! I’ve mentioned many times of my love for mixing orange soft drink and Dr. Pepper together at the fountain. I wish I could have tried OK Soda when it was around. I mean, the can I got from E-bay *IS* full…but its like 15 years old. I can’t imagine it would still taste…well..OK.
Update: I’ve got more to share with you regarding OK Soda. Click Here to read my 2nd OK Soda post.