OK Soda: The strange, nihilistic Nineties soda that only lasted seven months

The company said it tasted like "carbonated tree sap", and that's just the beginning.

Coca-Cola

Companies trying to be hip with the youth of today are hardly a new phenomenon. There's a reason that "How do you do, fellow kids?" has become a beloved meme. These days, it might look like trying to appeal to Gen Z, but there's nothing new under the sun.

In 1993, Coca-Cola decided to appeal to the totally rad Generation X demographic. Grunge was popular in a big way, and modern kids were pushing back against the Eighties big business culture. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was topping the charts. The "show about nothing," Seinfeld, was on TV. If you're Coca-Cola, you were what their parents drank. Laaame. 

What would follow is one of the most surreal product launches in modern business.

Reportedly, Coca-Cola realized that the word "OK" was the only word more recognizable than "Coke". It also captured what they perceived as the Gen X outlook on life. Not great, not awful, just... okay. And that's exactly what OK Soda promised!

The marketing for this soda focused not on how great it tasted or how you should enjoy it with friends. In fact, the campaign went out of its way to deliberately encourage negative publicity. An interview with a marketing consultant to several major soda brands summarized their view. "People who are 19 years old are very accustomed to having been manipulated and knowing that they're manipulated," the consultant said."...They have become really cynical and really callous. So, even though this product is designed around their concerns and their angst and their anxiety and the way they see the world, their sardonic humor."

The taste of the soda was described, unsurprisingly, as "just OK." Commercials pitched it as "citrusy" or "spicy." The company itself even called it "carbonated tree sap." Other consumers compared it to when you mix a bunch of flavors from a soda fountain. ...Yum?

OK Soda even came with its own manifesto, snippets of which could be found on the cans. Some of the selected sayings were:

• What's the point of OK? Well, what's the point of anything?

• OK Soda says, "Don't be fooled into thinking there has to be a reason for everything."

• OK Soda does not subscribe to any religion, or endorse any political party, or do anything other than feel OK.

• There is no real secret to feeling OK.

There was even a toll-free "hotline" at 1-800-I-FEEL-OK where consumers would be led through a series of true-or-false questions based on a standard psychological test. OK Soda mailed out a series of chain letters promoting strange OK Soda-based urban legends called "coincidences" that were also read on TV as part of the marketing.

OK Soda was launched in a handful of select cities around the US in the summer of 1993. Despite the heavy investment in marketing, the soda failed to perform well and ended up selling just over a million cases before it was canceled after just seven months. Perhaps marketing a soda as "just OK" isn't exactly the appeal they thought it was?

This all seems pretty weird, right?

It gets weirder. 

To get the disaffected, surreal art style that they wanted, Coca-Cola hired two of the more popular artists in the underground scene. Charles Burns (known for Black Hole) and Daniel Clowes (Eightball, Ghost World) were chosen to create the brutalist, monotone look of the can.

In 2014, Clowes spoke about the project, at first thinking it was a "rich guy's prank". The concept of trying to create an anti-corporate product made by one of the biggest corporations out there struck him as hollow. "I knew full well that what they were trying to do was not possible, that you could not market to cynical hipsters by being cynical and hipsterish."

So, in an act of sticking it to the man, Clowes modeled one of the faces that appeared on the cans after notorious killer Charles Manson. 

"They made me sign all this nondisclosure paperwork and stuff,” Clowes said, “but nothing ever said, ‘Don’t put a mass murderer on the can.’"

 
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denny 9 months ago
Coke went from OK to WOKE. Seems they just go whichever way the wind blows.
JHP 9 months ago
ahhhhhhh yes - my fav cola

"Jolt"
sirdaddy 9 months ago
Good morning how are you doing today?
JKMallaber 9 months ago
"Carbonated tree sap" actually was too good a description. That phrase would make me think of root beer or birch beer, which can be good. "OK" tasted like A$$.
Andy 9 months ago
I'd just moved to Minneapolis around the time this was released, one of the markets, and the local weekly "underground" newspaper had an ad insert of a sheet of 40 or 50 OK stickers with the 800 number printed along the edges. I remember trying it twice and just pouring the second bottle down the drain. It truly was as mediocre as reported online.
UTZAAKE 9 months ago
Knew absolutely nothing about OK Soda until reading this article. Only carbonated beverage introduced by Coca Cola in 1990s with which I'm familiar is SURGE (all capital letters because its name was shouted out in each of its TV commercials). Apparently "angst" was easily the most popular word of the 1990s. Story so much reminds me of this Todd Snider gum-chewin', wise-crackin' novelty song.
Catman 9 months ago
By the way, Coke is currently marketing a cola/coffee mixture and I swear I'm not making that up.
daDoctah Catman 9 months ago
I've tried it and wasn't impressed. There's a couple of carbonated coffee-flavored sodas by San Pellegrino that are a bit better.
Catman daDoctah 9 months ago
Give me a 200mg Vivarin caffeine pill and a can of (unflavored) club soda, and I'm good to go.
TheOnlyONE 9 months ago
All of a sudden...JOLT Cola looks fairly good.
Catman TheOnlyONE 9 months ago
I loved the idea of Jolt cola ... I do love my caffeine ... but Jolt Cola tasted terrible. I never saw or even heard of OK Soda before this article, but I bet there are still some unopened cans out there waiting to be added to someone's collection.
iluvwesterns 9 months ago
why you posting lame stories like this instead of more stories about the great westerns you show. lets see more of that. and add more westerns to your lame schedlue insted of those stupid monk and full house shows. omg those are terrible!
LoveMETV22 iluvwesterns 9 months ago
MeTV does post Western stories as well as quizzes. Enter "Westerns" in the search link for STORIES or QUIZZES to see them.
There is a "Contact METV" link on the top of the page where anyone can communicate programming preferences. How you word it is your choice.
You could also do a search for other networks that show western programming. MeTV does more than adequately in that area as well as their other variety of shows thankfully.
JHP iluvwesterns 9 months ago
I need to buy a B/W just to watch Me-Tv on sat
DrBentonQuest1964 9 months ago
Dr. Zin’s OK soda venture failed mainly due to his limited target audience. Henchmen. To the hydrofoil Jonny!
TlorDagama 9 months ago
my parents never drank Coke, at parties Mom had some 7 up. Dad never touched the stuff.
Zip TlorDagama 9 months ago
Your dad didn't go for that hard stuff, huh?.
TheSentinel 9 months ago
Never tried it, didn't care. For all I know or care, it could've tasted like carbonated roast pork broth and I still wouldn't have touched it. This from a longtime Pepsi man (who'll take Coke if Pepsi's not available).
PulsarStargrave 9 months ago
I bought a can and one bottle of the stuff, mostly for the Dan Clowes artwork! The drink was sweet but I don't remember it having a distinct flavor! Not Cherry, vanilla or cola...just nothingness...maybe a Zen monk should have been the spokesperson? It was dreadful when I tried it drink it with a double cheeseburger so that was a major deal breaker!
MrsPhilHarris 9 months ago
49 Grams of sugar in a can? 😳 That’s more than 9 teaspoons!
I'll take sugar over high fructose corn syrup any day.
vinman63 jeopardyhead 9 months ago
I love Passover because you can get Coke with sugar cane.
MrsPhilHarris 9 months ago
I wonder how many people called 1-800-I-Feel-Ok.
KJExpress MrsPhilHarris 9 months ago
Yeah, I wonder what types of questions fall under the category of "standard psychological?" I might have called just to find out.
Zip 9 months ago
"carbonated tree sap"

Think that's bad? Back in the day, I used to love drinking pickle juice out of the pickle jar. So I got the idea of making something I called "Pickle Pop", which would also use the catch-phrase, "Get Pickled." to promote it.(hey, my weird imagination).
Anyway, I figured all I had to do was get some carbonation into the pickle juice, and since I didn't have a machine to do that, I bought some club soda and mixed it with pickle juice.
I don't know if I simply didn't use the right ratio of pickle juice to club soda, but all I know is that it tasted horrible.
And thus ended my Pickle Pop corporation.
KJExpress Zip 9 months ago
Egad! 😝
LoveMETV22 Zip 9 months ago
Sounds like you had quite the 'dill' lemma back then.
daDoctah Zip 9 months ago
Check out a brand called "Lester's Fixin's". Don't know if they've got a pickle flavored soda, but they definitely have buffalo-wing flavor, bacon flavor (with and without maple), sweet corn flavor (my personal favorite), and PB&J (not as good as it sounds).
horribleHDanny LoveMETV22 9 months ago
Ba dum tiss(rimshot)
Zip daDoctah 9 months ago
Interesting. Though to me, PB&J soda doesn't even sound good, so no worries about me trying that.
Sweet corn does sound interesting.
Zip LoveMETV22 9 months ago
That's a dilly of a pun.
LoveMETV22 Zip 9 months ago
LoL. Not quite justjeff's puns, but worthy of a pun I guess.
Pacificsun 9 months ago
I'm not sure I believe any of this. But it's still a great, and extremely creative story!

Kudos!
lynngdance 9 months ago
Found a photo of a can of this weirdness. 😐
KJExpress lynngdance 9 months ago
These cans don't scream "buy me" to me. 😝
KJExpress lynngdance 9 months ago
Those faces are kind of creeping me out. And they don't even show the one based on Charles Manson! 😬
Michael lynngdance 9 months ago
I can't remember if it was Coke or Pepsi, but one decoarated their cans for some special event, maybe more than once. It was art, not a new regular design.
jeopardyhead Michael 9 months ago
What soda hasn't decorated its cans for some special event?
TheSentinel KJExpress 9 months ago
Maybe they could've branded the soda as "Meh" - same diff.
Pacificsun lynngdance 9 months ago
I still think it was somebody's weird marketing joke. Like, let's make something so horrible and see how long it takes to convince them "it''s not that bad."

I never saw it in the stores, or maybe it never made it to the West Coast.
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