OK Branding
May 6, 2020 8:19 PM   Subscribe

A quarter-century ago, a really big soda company attempted to subvert itself to reach Gen X. The problem? Coca-Cola’s OK Soda was a couple of decades too early. By Karen Corday.
posted by valkane (59 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
The last time I drank OK Soda was November 1, 2015 at 5:26pm Central Time.

I am not joking.

I have only minimal regrets.
posted by aramaic at 8:37 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


I was pretty hip to all the weird sodas out and around in the world back in the mid-90s, but I totally never saw this product. Was it maybe more regional? Like, in southern NM, it never made an appearance that I remember, even once. I would have bought some and tried it if I had seen it, as I was much more adventurous about unnecessary sweetened fizzy beverages back then and there were some fun flavors about for a while.
posted by hippybear at 8:42 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


I do not recall this at all despite being absolutely squarely in its target demographic. (Also that Bloomberg intro is a loooooong derail with minimal payoff.) But this did remind me of another tidbit I can use to blow the minds of my younger coworkers; I had forgotten that Diet Coke did not even exist until I was already in puberty.
posted by desuetude at 8:47 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


[actually, I think it's probably more accurate to say I took the photo at 5:26, and therefore that I actually consumed said drink at something between 5:26:30 and 5:28:30, given my overall grab-and-consume velocity when not on chemicals.]
posted by aramaic at 8:48 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: my overall grab-and-consume velocity when not on chemicals
posted by hippybear at 8:51 PM on May 6 [8 favorites]


It was only test-marketed in certain regions, yes. Teenage me totally lucked out, by being near Boston.
posted by aubilenon at 8:53 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


It came to my suburban Mpls high school where we mocked it with all the vehemence one would expect of late-stage GenX. If the soda had been good we might have bought it ironically, but it was shit, like at the end of the beverage manufacturing day they emptied all the lines into a vat and canned it.

Ultimately, the way to Gen Xers’ hearts in the ’90s was to parody the pop culture of the ’70s, which Boomers were not yet prepared to do because no one wants to see the popular culture of their own 20s as a hilariously retro joke.

A very good insight. Cue That 70s Show.
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:59 PM on May 6 [8 favorites]


I was a teenager at the time, and my peer group completely bought into the OK brand. If any of us had more than a minimum wage job, we could have kept the brand alive.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 9:13 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


For the Gen X nostalgia factor, the better bet would have been to revive the generic / No-Frills / Sans Nom / all the food props in Repo Man branding. Just a plain can marked COLA. Performative anti-branding branding would have cleaned up.
For some generational overlap, and popular media property tie-in merchandising, Dharma Initiative plain white cans/boxes might have done well too, when LOST was a thing.
posted by bartleby at 9:14 PM on May 6 [13 favorites]


Oh lordy, those white background/black print generics.

And then came generic brands. I remember the unfortunately Scotsman-branded low-cost brand that was available in my area growing up. And also grocery store brands, which were different from generics somehow.

The progressing decades have yielded better bottom shelf but not necessarily elevated top shelf products. I guess that's progress, moving toward equality.
posted by hippybear at 9:19 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


hippybear: Scotch-Buy! Ain't fancy but it sure is good! 🙄
posted by jazon at 9:39 PM on May 6


Here's something I know from a job I had once -- brand name milk and generic milk and store brand milk is all just the same milk done in the same dairy facility with different stickers loaded into the machine.

*****The More You Know
posted by hippybear at 9:42 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Never recall seeing this in Canada, but we did have Orbitz!
re: quirky 90s soft drinks, there's also Jones Soda.
posted by ovvl at 9:59 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


Back in the 70s it was Nehi Blue Creme Soda. It looked just like Windex!
posted by hippybear at 10:02 PM on May 6


I never realized they got Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes to do the art. Pretty savvy, and they even paid them well.

'90s, we didn't deserve you!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:07 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


Before Snapple moved to the wide mouth snap-cap format, they made a delicious clear/uncolored root beer and cola.
posted by bartleby at 10:09 PM on May 6


Here's something I know from a job I had once -- brand name milk and generic milk and store brand milk is all just the same milk done in the same dairy facility with different stickers loaded into the machine.
Sounds legit. Beware, though: this is not necessarily true of generic drugs.
posted by springo at 10:11 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Well, I was working in a local dairy facility and was not involved at all with drugs at any sort.
posted by hippybear at 10:21 PM on May 6 [6 favorites]


I was a Daniel Clowes fan in high school and was flabbergasted and delighted when an OK Soda machine appeared in one of the residence halls at Boston U. Of course, BU was always weird about which halls you were allowed into at what times as a non-resident of said halls, so I rarely crossed paths with it, and eventually the machine disappeared. Never crossed the line into trying the stuff, but I appreciated that it existed on an intellectual level.
posted by mykescipark at 10:33 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


It was no Orbitz.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:44 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


It was no Josta Cola or 7-up Gold or any number of odd soft drinks that appeared across about a decade of experimentation.
posted by hippybear at 10:46 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


I honestly miss 7-up Gold. It was a quality favored bubbly drink.
posted by hippybear at 10:47 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


AfriCola or go home
posted by kokaku at 10:55 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


My personal gold can misty watercolor memories are reserved for the Non-Diet yet No-Caffeine Coca-Cola. The opposite of caffeinated Diet Coke's silver can.
posted by bartleby at 11:12 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


I liked OK Soda. Even preferred it to Coke. But then, I was in high school, so I would drink whatever my parents happened to buy at Costco. I didn't notice when it was discontinued, though.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:02 AM on May 7


Josta was pretty good. (One guy even made it his personal crusade for Pepsi to bring it back.) Oddly, OK Soda didn't seem to make it to Memphis, where I was living at the time and which was (maybe still is) a pretty important test market for new products, although I remember seeing that Dan Clowes face in ads or news articles or something.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:40 AM on May 7


Sounds legit. Beware, though: this is not necessarily true of generic drugs.

Bio-availability via pill binder/coating etc was something that wasn't taken account of for generics initially; this has been resolved, along with the many other tests of equivalence generics have to pass to reach market. As best as we can test, generics are the same effect as the original patented medicine.

But there is a difference between branded and generic pain killers, at least - the placebo effect. Which is why you have the same drug and even same pill in several different shiny boxes for different 'types' of pain such as back pain, tension headache, migraine etc*; nurofen are notorious for this (plus it gives them more shelf space)

But it does actually work - If you think branded medicine is better. (Doctors and pharmacists go straight to generics, for example)
In a recent study, researchers gave people with frequent headaches a dummy pill. Some of these placebos were packaged as branded painkillers and some weren't. The branded ones were reported to be more effective at pain relief by those in the study and were associated with fewer side effects than the placebos packaged as generic medication.
Even colour of the pill makes a difference; red pills are better painkillers, while blue is better tranquillisers.

The placebo effect is just plain weird, man - even when you *know* it's a placebo, it can still help improve perception of symptoms.

* this isn't counting ibuprofen and ibuprofen lyseine as the same drug, before someone yells at me
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 2:32 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


Previously.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:12 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


I know, I know, but I really did drink Pepsi Blue nearly constantly for the five minutes it was a thing.
posted by Night_owl at 4:01 AM on May 7


Before Snapple moved to the wide mouth snap-cap format, they made a delicious clear/uncolored root beer and cola.

kroger sells cola, root beer and dr pepper knockoff seltzers in some states.

la croix has a bunch of cola flavored seltzers but they're not sold everywhere

I never tried ok ( it came to iowa city when I was in grad school)because they didn't have a diet version
posted by brujita at 5:21 AM on May 7


OK Soda showed up in the machines at my college in Tacoma, WA.

The joke between me and my friends was "it's ok". An obvious joke, but yeah it wasn't actually like, good tasting.
posted by Fleebnork at 5:28 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


> hippybear:
"I was pretty hip to all the weird sodas out and around in the world back in the mid-90s, but I totally never saw this product. Was it maybe more regional? Like, in southern NM, it never made an appearance that I remember, even once. I would have bought some and tried it if I had seen it, as I was much more adventurous about unnecessary sweetened fizzy beverages back then and there were some fun flavors about for a while."

We had up north in the Brainerd area.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:16 AM on May 7


OK Cola was like an energy drink with no energy. I miss Cappio.
posted by swift at 6:34 AM on May 7


Sounds legit. Beware, though: this is not necessarily true of generic drugs.

Thanks for this article; will read it later. For years, I bounced between different doses of a prescription generic, none of which stabilized my condition. Was switched to a brand name about a couple years ago and have been doing much better ever since.

Back on topic: I'd heard of OK Soda (probably via one of the half-dozen zines I was reading regularly at the time) but never saw it out in the wild growing up in South Florida. I was also reading indie comics back then, and liked (and still like) Charles Burns in particular, so those cans were very cool.
posted by May Kasahara at 6:41 AM on May 7


*reads thread while sipping Moxie*
posted by Fizz at 7:09 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


I never saw it in person, and I think my first knowledge of it came from Adbusters magazine, which I had a subscription to as a teenager. If I saw it in the wild I may have refused to buy it out of some sense that it was inauthentic, like it was owned by Coke and trying to buy indie cred? Meanwhile I was fixated on Jones soda because they had the black-and-white photography on the label and fortunes under the cap. I'm not sure how much I really cared about "authenticity" of soda pop, but enough for it to colour my attitude towards OK Soda.
posted by RobotHero at 7:21 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Man, Fruitopia was SUCH a thing, though.
posted by desuetude at 7:34 AM on May 7


When OK Soda came out I had just returned to the US from studying in Germany, where they had a soda called Mezzo Mix which was supposedly a mix of cola and orange soda, and OK tasted just like Mezzo Mix to me.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:08 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


*reads thread while sipping Moxie*
posted by Fizz at 10:09 on May 7 [+] [!]


Eponysterical
posted by slogger at 8:31 AM on May 7


If I saw it in the wild I may have refused to buy it out of some sense that it was inauthentic, like it was owned by Coke and trying to buy indie cred?

Welcome to the lunch table! Grab a strawberry Nutrigrain bar and some Airheads and dish about last night's episode of The Stand miniseries and how dreamy Rob Lowe is with me, Joe, and Ingrid.

(Yes, we would have used the words dish and dreamy, in maximum "outdated slang as mockery" mode. Let me tell you, it takes decades to overcome a disaffected 90s youth and learn to enjoy things unironically!)

/end 1994 nostalgia mode
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:39 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


1994 takes me back to the middle of high school. I distinctly remember the 1-800-I-FEEL-OK phone number on the cans. Were you supposed to leave a message or something?

For years, I would dial this 800 number on random payphones, the more isolated the better, to see if it would connect. I know know that this was Big Coke, but before the internet, there wasn't that much background information, and it was mysterious to me.
posted by jason6 at 8:47 AM on May 7 [4 favorites]


I distinctly remember the 1-800-I-FEEL-OK phone number on the cans. Were you supposed to leave a message or something?


If memory serves, calling the hotline played a recording of "The OK Manifesto" (or a reversed recording of it, if the caller so chose via the automated phone menu).
posted by DiscountDeity at 8:57 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


I loved how it tasted and when Coke Freestyle machines came out, I really hoped that Coke + Orange + something would get me there. sadly there's been too much time since to remember if that's exactly it.
posted by advicepig at 9:54 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


It was only test-marketed in certain regions

Which is amazing because it somehow ended up in a vending machine in my rural as hell Arkansas high school.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:11 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


We had up north in the Brainerd area.

Wikipedia lists the test markets. Somehow there were a couple of vending machines in Grand Forks, ND, where I was at the time; looks like Fargo was a test market, and maybe Grand Forks was close enough to be part of the same distributor district. I can't remember if it was on the military base or at the location in town near the university where I was doing a summer camp. Nevertheless, I had a ready supply of the stuff and loved it.

None of the adults seemed to like it, but we kids all thought it tasted like the rainbow/suicide sodas we were always making by putting a little from each tap at a fountain into a cup. In my memory, it tastes just like that but made with a heavy hand on the orange dispenser. It was perfect!

I spent an hour or so each day for a few weeks calling the hotline. As I remember it, the message you got changed a bit each time and there were a few different menu options, including recording what you liked about the soda and listening to others' recordings. I think some of the options changed each day, so that's why I called back every day.

I'm sure plenty of the marketing campaign went right over my late elementary school head. But my friends and I had just discovered Nirvana... Something about the strange can design, weird stuff you could listen to on a phone, and crazy taste, hit the sweet spot for us.
posted by msbrauer at 10:41 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


I have such fond memories of OK Soda, specifically calling the hotline as mentioned above. I remember listening to messages from other callers: “I drank OK soda... and now I feel OK!” I miss the 90s.
posted by sucre at 10:56 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


Here's something I know from a job I had once -- brand name milk and generic milk and store brand milk is all just the same milk done in the same dairy facility with different stickers loaded into the machine.

Same with just about everything sold under the "Kirkland" brand in Costco. Kirkland Coffee says it was manufactured by Starbucks right on the packaging.

3 Buck Chuck wine from Trader Joes was kinda the same thing, except they would white label all kinds of different wine depending on who was blowing out their inventory. Although, these days I think they bought a winery (Charles Shaw maybe?).
posted by sideshow at 11:07 AM on May 7


Although generic drugs have gotten more tightly regulated (I think bupropion was one of the clearest examples of non-equivalence), unlike no-brand foods they are still not typically manufactured by the same company that does the brand. Instead, there are a few big generic drug manufacturers (like Teva) that do almost all of them. The active ingredient does have to be the same, but the formulation of the pill can be different, and the tolerances are loose enough that if you’re on a drug with a narrow therapeutic index then you do need to be careful about switching. For most people generics are fine, of course, it’s just not the same situation as food products and the differences aren’t all placebo/nocebo effect.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:17 AM on May 7


I'm pretty sure I tried it once on a trip to my grandparents in Fargo, but I have absolutely no recollection of what it tasted like. I doubt I had more than the one opportunity to try it.
posted by ckape at 12:18 PM on May 7


I lived in an area (NW Washington) where OK was available, while it was a thing. I loved that stuff. And like others have said, it tasted a lot like Coke + Orange to me. Even if it's not entirely accurate, Coke plus a shot of orange soda from a Freestyle or just from a regular fountain that has both, is close enough for nostalgia.
posted by xedrik at 1:26 PM on May 7


I was at Boy Scout camp the summer that this came out and the coke machine near our campsite would stock up with this stuff - which was incredibly popular among that particular crowd of males aged 12-18. Like, selling out within minutes upon restocking popular.

I'd 100% jump on a can of this now if I could find one. 100%.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:45 PM on May 7


I liked OK Cola OK, I really enjoyed Jones sodas, but the only bad idea 90s soda that I properly loved was Jolt! Cola. Motto: "Twice the Caffeine!
posted by 1adam12 at 3:02 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


All the Sugar and Twice the Caffeine! Maximum vice.
posted by Flannery Culp at 3:15 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


Scotsman-branded low-cost brand

I had never made the connection until just now.
posted by ctmf at 8:49 PM on May 7


The worst snack I ever bought myself was in 1992 or 1993, when I went to the store and came home with a bottle of Crystal Pepsi and a bag of Texas Tang Doritos.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:54 PM on May 7


I remember seeing ads for OK Soda, but never actually tried the stuff.

We did have a favorite obscure soft drink during my college years in the late 70s, though: Rondo, a citrus-flavored soda that, as I recall, mixed pretty well with vodka.

(Until reading the Wikipedia entry just now, I never knew that Rondo's name and slogan inspired the fictional Brawndo from "Idiocracy," but of course they did!)
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 4:33 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I still miss Slice.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:11 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]


loved diet apple slice!
posted by brujita at 6:49 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


natural water is the best :)
posted by fensterking at 10:04 AM on May 9


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