OK Soda was born in 1993, a Coca-Cola product to woo and win Gen X. Wieden + Kennedy did its utmost to make the new drink catch on. It didn’t. Ironically the brand’s tagline was, “Things are going to be OK”. They weren’t. The drink lasted two years. But I think you might agree with Tomlinson; its design work (it won a Yellow Pencil in packaging design) and its advertising were really wonderful.
Matt Tomlinson, digital designer, 303 MullenLowe Perth
It’s the dawn of the ’90s. I’m in the ether and only exist as a recurring nightmare in my parents’ minds. The counterculture of the world is sipping the dregs of Nirvana. They’re bulletproof to marketing unless you’re selling a pin badge that says, “I eat authority for a non-predetermined mealtime, breakfast is a construct, get f*cked.”
Coca-Cola’s rainbow world of aluminium rejected the disenfranchised. When nobody understood your affinity to wear all-black, a lone monotone offering sold you the reassurance that everything will be “OK”. A mixture of sugar, slick but recycled artwork, poor timing and citrusy bubbles glance up at you.
OK Soda is a beautiful design artefact, a tin can tattooed with marketing critique and hints of comic book culture. Tapping into a distrust of advertising, OK borrows visual cues from They Live, a commentary on consumerism. Despite its basement brew appearance, OK was an imposter.
The grunge rebellion bubbling within America was untapped potential, Coke created OK to infiltrate a subculture it couldn’t capture. The product promised the achievable, pulling focus on the humour within everyday monotony. The soda wouldn’t complete you, you wouldn’t “get the girl”, the car, the big house and you’d be okay with reality. Amongst the neutral promise and tangy orange, the demographic smelt the bullshit.
Bigger than a product or campaign, are considerations for reaching the unreachable. OK is etched into my personal design mythology – it’s my Holy Grail. Droplets of satire leaked into reality when Coke & W+K advertised a critique on advertising. Its branding and rich campaign world is a life raft for the self-critical era we’re currently waist-high within. Sure, the product was a failure, not in the Pepsi-Kardashian sense; it just was ahead of its time. Despite being canned, the thought behind OK is yet to reach its expiry date. Present day, we see brands scrawl surreal, self-aware ads across social media in pursuit of virality. The Slurpee sipping generation falls into the comfy chairs of managerial positions, we brace for the post-modern tsunami to come. The victors will be those who put their marketing where their mouth isn’t but remain authentic.
I sip the backwash of decades past, and I’m reminded 30 years later that everything is going to be OK.