OK Soda

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The minimalist OK Soda logo
Type soft drink
Manufacturer The Coca-Cola Company
Distributor CCE, Others
Country of origin United States
Introduced 1993
Discontinued 1995
Flavour Cola
Related products Coca Cola

OK Soda was a soft drink created by The Coca-Cola Company in 1993 that aggressively courted the Generation X demographic with unusual advertising tactics, including endorsements and even outright negative publicity. It did not sell well in select test markets and was officially declared out of production in 1995 before reaching nation-wide distribution. The drink's slogan was "Things are going to be OK."


[edit] History

In 1993, Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta rehired Sergio Zyman to be the chief of marketing for all Coca-Cola beverage brands, a surprising choice given that Zyman had worked closely with the New Coke campaign, possibly the largest advertising failure in Coke's history.[original research?] However, after revamping the can design and print advertising campaigns for Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Classic with great success, Zyman was given free rein to design new products with aggressive, offbeat marketing campaigns. [1]

International market research done by The Coca-Cola Company in the late 1980s revealed that "Coke" was the second most recognizable word across all languages in the world. The first word was "OK." Zyman (who also conceived Fruitopia) decided to take advantage of this existing brand potential and created a soft drink with this name. He conceived of a counter-intuitive advertising campaign that intentionally targeted people who didn't like advertising. He predicted that the soft drink would be a huge success, and promised Goizueta that the soft drink would take at least 4% of the US beverage market.[2]

[edit] Testing

The original four cans used in test markets.

Despite a nationwide advertising campaign and intense media attention, OK Soda was marketed only in select areas, representing different demographic areas during the summer of 1993. This is a common form of marketing research known as "test marketing", in which a product is launched on a small scale to determine the likely acceptance of the product when it is introduced to the wider market. There was one unusual aspect of the test marketing, and that was that four separate can designs were used (with each test market getting all four designs). Coke announced at the time that they would continually update the cans with new designs (later designs can be identified by having an explanatory tag saying that it is "A unique fruity soda"). Some of the testing locations were:

OK Soda never captured more than 3% of the beverage market in any of the target locations, failing to match Zyman's hype. The project was cancelled by Coca-Cola just seven months after its kickoff, and the soft drink was never widely released to the public.[3]

[edit] Cult following

After its failure, OK Soda enjoyed a brief cult following on the Internet, including the use of a newsgroup at alt.fan.ok-soda, which was fairly active for several years. Fans would reminisce about the offbeat advertising materials, sell merchandise and intact cans, and trade recipes for home-brewed OK Soda facsimiles. Even then, the newsgroup was soon taken over by fans of the Generation X band Throwing Muses, and discussion of the original subject died out. It is still referenced in hipster crowds as an example of large corporations attempting to connect with youth markets and failing; publications such as The Baffler and suck.com would reference the drink and marketing campaign well after its demise. The merchandise, cans and advertising material can still be found readily on eBay.

[edit] Marketing

One of the OK Soda can designs; illustrated by Charles Burns

OK Soda has been remembered more for its unique advertising campaign than for its fruity flavor. The name and advertising campaign attempted to poke fun at the "I'm OK, You're OK" pop-psychology of the early-70s. OK Soda was intentionally marketed at the difficult Generation X and Generation Y markets, and attempted to cash in on the group's existing disillusionment and disaffection with standard advertising campaigns; the concept was that the youth market was already aware that they were being manipulated by mass-media marketing, so this advertising campaign would just be more transparent about it. Its indirect advertising was a form of rebel advertising similar to the McDonalds commercials for the Arch Deluxe. The campaign was designed by Portland based advertising firm Wieden & Kennedy. Spokespeople for the company and their advertisers were very frank about the fact that they were marketing the drink entirely on the "feeling" rather than the taste.[4]

The general public did not respond to the offbeat campaign, and most critics point out that the campaigning was too overt in its courting of the youth and teen market. [5]

[edit] 800 number and TV ads

In addition to regular video and print advertisements, OK Soda had several 800 numbers (1–800–I–FEEL–OK and 1–800–4–OK–SODA) that you could call and leave messages with the disclaimer "your comments may be used in advertising or exploited in some other way we haven't figured out yet". They also had TV advertisements with messages ostensibly left on this answering machine, with mildly enthusiastic responses, off-topic messages and even angry tirades against the advertising campaign. One of the more famous television ads featured the message: "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!))". The hotline received millions of calls from curious teenagers, but ultimately did little to actually promote the sale of the soft drink. The voice over actor from the television and radio ads was also the automated voice on the hotline. One of the options from the automated phone menu was to hear "Amazingly Lifelike OK Bird Whistles". If you selected this option you would hear the actor twirp, chirp, warble and otherwise imitate birds in his chipper yet deadpan, smarmy voice.

[edit] Can design

Both the cans and the print advertisements for the soft drink featured work by popular Fantagraphics cartoonists Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns, known for their low-key and blandly realistic style. Unlike the brightly colored Coca-Cola cans, they were decorated in drab shades of grey, with occasions of red text. In addition to the primarily two-tone illustrations, the cans would feature a special code that could be entered at the given 800 number as well as a "Coincidence", which was usually some odd bit of trivia about some town in the United States. They would also sometimes contain messages from the OK Manifesto, which was a series of platitudes about OK-Ness, pithy thought reform sayings with no real meaning, much in the style of doublespeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four, mocking traditional advertisement slogans or catch-phrases. Some cans had similar messages printed on their inside.

[edit] Manifesto

Excerpts from the OK Soda manifesto were printed on the cans, and were also available for a short while on their website. Some of the sayings were:

  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.

[edit] Backlash

Obey Giant creator Shepard Fairey noted that the color scheme and font were strikingly similar to his signature "Obey" stickers which were catching on at the time and made it his personal mission to sabotage the advertising campaign in Providence, Rhode Island. He made several custom-sized posters that said "AG" (an abbreviation for André the Giant) instead of "OK", and plastered them over all of the ads he could find.[6]

[edit] Composition and taste

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. It has also been compared to a "suicide","swampwater" or "graveyard", a mixture of all the flavors available at a convenience store or gas station's soft drink dispenser.

In contrast to earlier beverages from the 1990s also noted for their marketing campaigns, such as Jolt and Red Bull, OK Soda's caffeine content was not emphasized. A 12-ounce serving of OK Soda had only 40.5 milligrams of caffeine, slightly less than Coca-Cola itself (45.6 mg).

[edit] References

  1. ^ Greising, David (1998). I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke: The Life and Leadership of Roberto Goizueta. The Big Brand Machine, pp. 233-235. New York: Wiley. ISBN 0-471-34594-6.
  2. ^ Zyman, Sergio (2000). The End of Marketing as We Know It. Marketing is Science, pp. 47-49. New York: HarperBusiness. ISBN 0-88730-983-6.
  3. ^ Pendegrast, Mark (2000). For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It. Global Fizz, pp. 400-403. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-05468-4.
  4. ^ "Coke Hopes to Sell New Drink on How it Feels not Tastes" — Transcript of an NPR interview with a soft drink marketing consultant on OK Soda (May 27, 1994) (from web archives)
  5. ^ Great Xpectations from Time Magazine, accessed January 9, 1997.
  6. ^ Project X - An interview with Obey Giant creator Shepard Fairey, who documents his personal sabotage of the OK Soda campaign in Providence. (from web archives)

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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