Coke Hopes to Sell New Drink on How it Feels not Tastes

All Things Considered (NPR), 27 May 1994.

NOAH ADAMS, Host: The Coca-Cola company tells us, by fax today, that Coca-Cola is the second-best known term in the world. The best known term, they say, is the expression, OK, and that's the brand name chosen by Coke for a new soft drink, a citrus-flavored cola drink being sold right now in Austin, Texas, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle, a few other cities and it's coming soon to a vending machine near you. OK soda is a soft drink meant for teenagers and young adults and the sales pitch is downbeat. The slogan is, `Things are going to be OK.'

[excerpt from commercial]

ANNOUNCER: OK soda does not subscribe to any religion or endorse any political party or do anything other than feel OK. Folks, there is no real secret to feeling OK. Attributed to OK soda, 1998.

ADAMS: That is an OK soda telephone message. Today, we talk with Tom Pirko [sp], a marketing consultant to a number of major soft drink companies. He's done work both for Coke and for Pepsi. Pirko attended an informal tasting of OK soda.

TOM PIRKO, Marketing Consultant: It's suitably wacky. It tastes a little bit like going to a fountain and mixing a little bit of Coke with a little root beer and Dr. Pepper and maybe throwing in some orange.

ADAMS: Coke, root beer, Dr. Pepper and some orange.

Mr. PIRKO: Yes, a wonderful combination. You would certainly be impressed by the fact that it is- it's an out there sort of drink. But once again, the audience that this product is aimed for is an audience is accustomed to sort of being smashed on the side of the head, so you have to have a flavor that is sort of out there.

ADAMS: You mean in the- in the pit at the slam dance concerts, you're talking about.

Mr. PIRKO: Oh sure, right. [unintelligible]

ADAMS: So, it has a bold taste, you're saying.

Mr. PIRKO: I'm saying that you wouldn't- this is not a drink for the timid. The whole- the whole premise of the drink is just sort of to rock the taste buds, I think, so this drink really steps forward and does affect you.

ADAMS: Who is this drink for?

Mr. PIRKO: The drink is for teenagers, primarily boys.

ADAMS: These young men, to whom this is being pitched, what are they drinking right now?

Mr. PIRKO: Lots and lots and lots of soft drinks - things that have big flavors. They like Mountain Dew. They like Dr. Pepper. They like things that are heavy on the sugar and the caffeine side. But you have to step back a second, if you- if you do what we do and if you work in the beverage business. One of the first things that you're constantly reminding yourself of is the fact that soft drinks aren't really beverages and that even though taste is always promoted as- as the key quality, the key ingredient of any brand, it really isn't. It falls way down in the hierarchy. The most important thing is advertising.

ADAMS: The most important thing is advertising?

Mr. PIRKO: No question. People choose a soft drink on the basis of advertising - what it says to them, how they identify with it, how it fits into their lives. The second most important thing is what it looks like and that's because they want to be seen and want to- with the product and they want to identify with their peers and what they pick up is extraordinarily important. The third thing is- is just simply availability. Is it there? The fourth thing is probably price value and you mean how many quarters can you put into a machine? Then somewhere down there falls taste.

ADAMS: So, when I ask you, `What does it taste like?' your answer is, `Who cares?'

Mr. PIRKO: Oh, I'm much less concerned with how the product tastes and a whole lot more concerned with the fact that it just has sort of major impact, because the people who whom this product is directed want to sort of be rocked and they really don't care how it tastes. They're more concerned about the way they're affected by the taste.

ADAMS: Wouldn't you, if you were 19 years old and in this category, this market category, wouldn't you feel a bit manipulated that this - they were coming after you so blatantly?

Mr. PIRKO: People who are 19 years old are very accustomed to having been manipulated and knowing that they're manipulated. There are only one or two things that I think might prevent the product from being a very major success. A large part of the audience- potential audience for the product is - I hate to say this - but it's- they're already sort of already truly wasted. I mean, their lethargy probably can't be penetrated by any commercial message. That's not to degrade them, it's just that 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. It doesn't mean that they can be penetrated. And the last thing, really, has more to do with the soft drink culture. I has to do with Coca-Cola and whether or not they're really going to back this product and really spend a great deal of money advertising it and putting it on MTV and getting it in front of the audience.

ADAMS: Tom Birko, president of Bevmark [sp],a food and beverage consultant firm.


[The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, in order to meet rigid distribution and transmission deadlines, it has not been proofread against audiotape and cannot, for that reason, be guaranteed as to the accuracy of speakers' words or spelling.]

Copyright 1994 National Public Radio. All Rights Reserved.

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