Hello, St. Agnes High School class of ’93! It’s great to be here. Of course, it would be greater to be in God’s eternal glory, but I guess we’re all 20 years closer to that now, aren’t we? Am I right or am I right? Sister Josephine, I’m surprised you’re not there already. What are you waiting for? Got any mortal sins weighing you down? If anything ever happened between you and Sister Mary Louise, I just want to let you know that I, personally, am not judging. That’s for the Big Guy. Am I right or am I right?
But seriously, it’s great to be here. There’s got to be over half our class out there…at least 30 people. That’s just beautiful, and I think it reflects what we learned here at St. Agnes that will forever shape our lives and keep us close as a class: shame, guilt, and fear. And I’m not just talking about those Facebook messages threatening a prayer circle around your house if you didn’t show up to this reunion, I’m talking about the example set by the original J.C., who beat James Deen to that whole sexy-carpenter character by about two thousand years.
Speaking of Hay-Seuss, he said that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. Anyone here got that issue—mo’ money, mo’ problems? Anyone? Nope, me neither, and just to make sure your pockets aren’t too heavy for you to squeeze through those pearly gates, we’re going to be passing the hat for a fund that’s going to go towards the updating of the Papal portraits throughout the school.
That’s right, we’ve got a new Pope! Wow, does that make you feel old or what? When we were 18, it didn’t seem like JP2 was ever going to kick it. I mean, once you’ve driven your Popemobile through 129 countries, what’s left on your bucket list? But he finally keeled over, and we’ve got a new guy, a new Pope with a fresh new perspective. He’s seven years younger than John Paul II, but he’s still old enough to have been a Nazi Youth, so…experience, am I right? That’s what I’m talking about.
Speaking of youth, anyone here have kids yet? Whoops! I mean, does anyone have grandkids yet? I know some of you have kids who are of legal drinking age, which means they’re old enough to make some of the same bad decisions we did, am I right? All aboard the love train, destination fornication! Remember that Meat Loaf song that was big during our senior year, “I’d Do Anything for Love…But I Won’t Do That”? Well, we all knew “that” was the one thing not expressly forbidden by our Catechisms, at least in a heterosexual context.
Anyway, the great thing is that I know you’re raising your kids as strong Catholics like our parents raised us, which means they’re not going to use birth control or have abortions, so…God’s will. That’s what it’s really about here. God willed a child to be conceived in your public-school girlfriend’s uterus beneath the Bandas Hall bleachers while those of us teenage virgins danced awkwardly to “November Rain,” and that’s a beautiful thing.
Speaking of GNR, how about that Axl Rose, huh? Banging Lana Del Rey? Never mind the video games, baby. You guys still play video games? I do. To hell with these new ones, though. I’m sticking with that classic Tecmo Bowl action. Have you ever tried a Hail Mary pass? Good luck with that…she’s only ever been with God, and you know He’s packing the Magnums. Heyoooooo! Lemme just Tebow this set real quick, and I am out. Hallelujah!
“OK was way ahead of its time, design-wise,” wrote Christian Erickson, pinning this image of a can of OK Soda. True enough—maybe, in fact, too far ahead of its time.
OK Soda was manufactured by the Coca-Cola Company from 1993 to 1995. The drink was Coke’s attempt to reach the new generations: Generation X at its Reality Bites peak and Generation Y at its first-grade-convenience-store consumer dawning. The beverage name was inspired by the fact that “Coke” was the second most-recognized word in the world, the first one being “OK.”
The mastermind of OK Soda was Coke chief of marketing Sergio Zyman, newly rehired after having been canned (so to speak) following the New Coke debacle of 1985. Believing that Gen X consumers hated brands and advertising, Zyman made OK an anti-brand—from its generic name to its absurdist taglines (“What’s the point of OK? Well, what’s the point of anything?”) and its incorporation of varied artwork by alt cartoonists such as Daniel Clowes rather than a fixed design. Even the small print at the bottom of the can seemed written for Holden Caulfield: A CARBONATED “BEVERAGE.”
None of this, of course, actually worked: the brand flopped. Why? There are rarely simple answers to questions like that, and brand-launch failures often hinge on logistical issues (distribution, price, etc.) that are hidden to consumers. You have to wonder, though, whether an anti-marketing campaign will ever be a winning strategy for selling soda.
Look at the soda cooler at your local gas station, and you’re not going to see a lot of avant-garde artwork. You’ll see a host of familiar brands and a wash of imagery conveying feelings like relaxation (iced tea), nutrition (Vitamin Water), and energy (Red Bull). Among those brands will be Coke. Coke works. As Zyman learned in 1985, people don’t like their Coke messed with—even when blind taste tests clearly demonstrate that a different taste would be preferable to most people. Coke is a brand like the American flag: it’s iconic, and you can use it ironically or not, as you prefer. You don’t need a special anti-Coke marketed to you, and especially not one that looks like a book instead of a soda. (Where an OK-style design might work better is on a bottle of microbrew.)
And yet, sometimes new brands do break out. Pepsi happened, obviously, and in recent years there’s been the remarkable success of Red Bull—which not only opened up a whole new “energy drink” market that had previously been a tiny sector housing Jolt Cola, but actually defined what “energy” tastes like. Industry experts have been mystified at how the weirdly unbalanced taste of Red Bull is now the only taste consumers want in their energy drinks—if it doesn’t taste kind of like Red Bull, it doesn’t taste like “energy.”
I’m not a marketing expert, but I face my own little marketing decision every time I sit down to write a blog post. Once you’ve been blogging for long enough you have a rough idea of what people will respond to: I could stick squarely within The Tangential’s “brand” and write a post like “Pros and Cons of the Avengers I’d Like to Fuck” or whatever. That would almost certainly get more likes and reblogs than this post will. It’s nice to be appreciated, but (a) that gets boring and (b) if you don’t keep moving forward, eventually you’ll become irrelevant. Even Coke needs to stay on its toes, and The Tangential is no Coke.
My co-blogger Becky does work in marketing (in fact, Christian is her boss), and she often writes about marketing on her company’s blog. The overall message of the blog is that the era of marketing as forcing-a-brand-down-consumers’-throats is over, and that a new era is beginning in which brands, to succeed, have to form meaningful relationships with their consumers.
On the surface, the OK Soda campaign would seem to be in line with this recommendation: it did everything but try to push its brand down consumers’ throats. Its anti-campaign, though, was still one-sided: Coke presented Gen X consumers with Coke’s idea of what they might want instead of engaging them as consumers. It’s almost impossible to know what “engaging consumers” might have looked like in the pre-Internet era, but OK Soda wasn’t it.
Am I engaging you as a community with this post? Maybe, maybe not—but I’m not trying to sell you The Tangential™, I’m just sharing my thoughts. What are your thoughts? Let me guess: “I really wish you’d just written about the pros and cons of the Avengers you’d like to fuck.”