Healthcare Brand Growth Blog

 September 14, 2011

OK! The Greatest Political Campaign of All Time???

Actually, it was a miserable failure.  Or was it?

It's probably safe to say that "OK" (or "okay" if you prefer) is one of the most widely used words on the planet. Whether you speak Russian, Chinese, French, Spanish, Thai… the list goes on...most languages have incorporated "OK" into the vernacular.

Here's the interesting part: common use of "OK" actually arose from a presidential campaign in the 1840's for Martin Van Buren.  But, lets back up for a second. It's worth mentioning that "OK", as we use it now, actually appeared in the 1830s as part of an abbreviation fad. Newspapers in New England went through this little phase in which they found ways to abbreviate nearly everything. NG ("No Go"), GT ("gone to Texas"-whatever that means), NS ("nuff said")… you get the idea. OK stood for "oll korrect", which sounds like "all correct"…and that's exactly what it means. Most of these abbreviations died off pretty quickly, but OK, for whatever reason, stuck around.

Jump ahead to 1840– President Van Buren, who was running for re-election, was sometimes referred to as "Old Kinderhook"-OK for short. Political supporters played on the abbreviation and formed the "OK Club." OK became the slogan on buttons and banners and it was even used as a war cry for politically motivated brawls. Some stories say that, during the election, campaign workers requesting Van Buren's sign-off on papers would ask for the OK.

OK was so viral that political opponents spent considerable time coming up with negative spins on what OK stood for. "Out of Kash", "Orfully Konfused", "Often Kontradicts"… You know you're on to something when the competition starts using your slogan. It seems that both sides hammered on OK hard enough that it became a part of popular culture.

Now, Van Buren probably didn't think that the OK slogan was much of a success—he didn't win the election and, generally, victory or the lack thereof determines the assessed success of a political campaign. But, wow…talk about catchy. Few campaigns can claim that they helped popularize one of the most widely used words in the world.

So, aside from the history lesson, this story brings up a something else: sometimes success in marketing isn't necessarily measured in direct conversions- OK didn't win the election. Don't get us wrong - measurability is a huge element to consider when choosing your strategy and we always recommend it. But, there is something to be said for a Brand … or a campaign slogan…that makes itself part of popular culture. Kleenex (common for facial tissue), Windex (that's what we say when we talk about window cleaner), Coke (stands for basically anything fizzy in the South)… Sometimes this happens because your product is the first of its kind (TiVo) and sometimes it's because your product is the best. Sometimes it happens because your marketing slogan was just that amazing. Admittedly, there's some luck involved too.

So… here's the question: if a campaign makes your Brand a cultural icon, but it doesn't translate to out-of-this-world sales, was your campaign a success?  If so, that would make "OK" the greatest political campaign of all time.

All that aside, the history of OK is pretty interesting. Hopefully you'll think about it the next time you say "OK."

Big goals require big plans – if you could use some support, email Jim Flynn at or call 309-673-8191.