Come To Generation X: You're OK, Drink OK

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In its rush to develop new products, Coca-Cola Co. within the next 30 days will bring to market a new brand that's admittedly not fully formed.

The cola giant's most recent nod to the growing popularity of non-colas is OK, an orange-cola hybrid wrapped in stark, b&w packaging and a world-weary, Generation X attitude.

Part of Coca-Cola's pitch to media- and marketing-savvy young consumers is an 800-number, separate from the product information line that's standard on most soft-drink packages. Without divulging details, Sergio Zyman, Coca-Cola's senior VP-chief marketing officer, hinted, "it's a way for consumers to leave data and take data."

Coca-Cola's OK development team spent "a lot of time talking to the consumer to create this ... and we won't introduce the product and leave it. We intend to continue to tweak it as we go along," Mr. Zyman said last week at a New York news conference.

"When I say tweaking, that includes everything, from marketing to packaging to the taste itself ... The best marketers in the world are consumers."

In keeping with OK's we're-all-in-on-the-joke approach, a sample 800-number recording played for reporters advised would-be callers that "your comment may be used in advertising or exploited in some other way we haven't figured out yet."

By acknowledging up front that it may change OK, Coca-Cola also might be covering itself in case the product stumbles on its first try, only to be recast later, a la Pepsi-Cola Co.'s Crystal Pepsi. That brand has been reformulated and is now known as Crystal, from the makers of Pepsi.

With 12-to-25-year-old males as its primary target, Coca-Cola hopes to cut in on the recent success of brands like Dr Pepper and Pepsi's Mountain Dew. Coca-Cola would not divulge advertising dollars committed to OK, but would have to spend about $25 million to compete with Dr Pepper and Mountain Dew.

OK was developed, Mr. Zyman said, by a team that included the marketing and technical staff, a lawyer and ad agency Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

"Things are going to be OK" will be the theme of ads developed by Wieden. Point-of-purchase displays and outdoor boards will draw on OK's packaging art, from Portland-based underground comic book artist Daniel Clowes.

Coca-Cola said it has trademarked OK in 150 countries. The brand initially will roll out in four countries outside the U.S.

Mr. Zyman said Coca-Cola views OK as a "mainstream product, not a niche." That translates into 3% to 4% of the $49.1 billion carbonated soft-drink market, a goal other beverage marketers call unrealistic at best.

Tom Pirko, president of food and beverage consulting firm Bevmark, New York, praised Coca-Cola for coming up with "the first mainline soft-drink product" playing straight to Generation X.

"The big factor is how much they advertise," Mr. Pirko said. "It's incredibly important that they pump this thing onto cable and radio."M

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