Ode to OK

In 1993 i was living for a short time in Westminster, CO, a lower income suburb of Denver, CO. We had to move there when both my parents, who both worked at an extremely upscale gated community in Orange County, were laid off at the same time. We basically went bankrupt and had to move in with family in Colorado. The 18 months I spent there were generally not enjoyable, but I degrees.

ok-soda-7During that time commercials and print advertising started promoting a new product called OK Soda. The Denver area was a test market for this new Coke product. The advertising was very anti-establishment, but sort of in a tongue-in-cheek way, almost like the brand was poking fun at itself and 90s-era anti-corporatism… using anti-marketing to market a product. It was really interesting. More importantly, the visual design of the cans, print ads, vending machines, and boxes were fantastic. The logo was even better. At 12 years old I first realized (and appreciated) the importance of strong design in advertising.

The artwork prominently featured a highly vectorized wood-carving style by Charles Burns that had this almost eerie style of almost brainwashed people. The artwork directly acknowledged the fact that it was on a can, bottle or box. Characters would be holding UPC codes or nutritional information.

ok-machineThe typography also self-parodied the brand — often times text would be intentionally reversed, the logo would be upside down, or words like “beverage” would be in quotes, as if this wasn’t a beverage at all.

On some of the early boxes and bottles there was a 800 number, which presented you with whimsical options like “Press 1 to hear a snippet of relaxing jazz” or “Press 3 to hear the tone for 3”. Working your way through the menus would eventually get you to a series of OK mottos like “What’s the point of OK? Well, what’s the point of anything?”and “OK Soda may be the preferred drink of other people such as yourself.”

This messaging came at a time where ads were bombarded by promises that products were going to totally rock your world and change your life. This sort of chill whatever approach to the product was incredibly refreshing.

It would be many years into my career before learning that this entire campaign was brought together by Portland’s own Wieden+Kennedy. Which makes perfect sense. If any city would cultivate this outlandish, sarcastic campaign — it would be Portland.

Yeah, you can click on these.

The drink itself was decent enough. Today you can create a very close approximation by mixing half Coke, half Dr. Pepper, with a flew splashes of Orange soda. Sort of a spicy cola with a hint of fruit. It’s unclear to me to this day if the drink was made after the concept for the campaign was born or if the campaign was created for the drink. It doesn’t really matter, after 2 short years OK was completely gone. Occasionally posters, shirts, and scary unopened cans will turn up on eBay for insane amounts of money.

These days, my love for OK (and it’s effect on me at a time where I was just starting to understand design) is mostly relegated to a collection of scans and artwork I’ve saved from the web over the years.

It’s still inspiring to open up the images and browse through them, but I’m not quite sure if I’m admiring the artwork or trying to recapture that 12 year old’s epiphany: that once I discovered the power of design, there was no turning back.