When I was little, box juices were a basic element of kid life. My mom would often give me a box juice when I was out running around the backyard with my friends, and in kindergarten you could bank on one being packed with my lunch.
Some days it was Minute Maid in the black box with the little orange straw glued on the side, other days it was a refreshing dose of Hi-C. Slimer’s Ecto-Cooler was a favorite with the juice box junkies in my first grade class. Even today, seeing those boxes in the juice aisle at the grocery store bring back a monsoon of great memories.
So I was surprised when a box juice came along that was made for adults. “Box juices are kid territory” I thought. “Would grownups be seen drinking box juice?” Well, maybe… if it were pitched by an edgy early-‘90s celebrity comedian such as the incomparable Richard Lewis.
“Flavor Just Slightly Over The Edge”
BoKu was a brand of box juice released in 1990 by McCain Citrus, Inc. that was marketed to adults and presented as being more mature than children’s box juices.
BoKu differentiated itself from kids drinks with boxes that were taller and more substantial. They had an adult look and feel, with a clean design that featured minimalistic ’90s graphics on a white box with a splash of color. Its sophisticated packaging tossed out the little straw in favor of a foil pull-tab. BoKu was adult without being alcoholic, and flavors like “White Grape Raspberry” and “Apple Peach” were aimed at adults with a crisp taste and a bit of a bite.
From 1991 through 1994, BoKu ran a big marketing blitz of television commercials that targeted adults and featured comedian Richard Lewis as BoKu’s spokesman.
The commercials were memorable, with an indignant Richard Lewis dramatically espousing the virtues of BoKu by saying things like “It’s my undeniable right as a man of the ‘90s to quench my thirst in my own way! I want a BoKu!”
Richard Lewis embodied BoKu’s adult-oriented persona. Edgy and popular, Lewis had been at the forefront of a wave of comics that rose to national attention in the ’80s as cable audiences grew in number and HBO stand up specials were becoming home box office gold.
Audiences today may think of Richard Lewis for his work with Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Throughout the 1980s Lewis made numerous appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and had a number of HBO specials. By 1990, Richard Lewis was on the comedy circuit A-List, and starred alongside Jamie Lee Curtis in their sitcom Anything But Love that aired on ABC following Roseanne and Doogie Howser, M.D.
Richard Lewis was cynical, honest and unapologetic. These characteristics became part of BoKu’s bold advertising campaign as ad dollars poured into TV commercials in an attempt to convince adults that box juices were no longer relegated to the kids table.
Richard Lewis’ commercials presented BoKu’s seven-fruit blend as an interesting and worldly alternative to Coke and Pepsi. “All this carbonation is very unsettling! I don’t want to belch anymore belching is for babies! I want to be refreshed naturally, calmly.” Lewis trumpeted in one commercial.
I very clearly remember the first time I saw a Richard Lewis BoKu commercial on television. It was a Saturday night, the week I had first gotten my Super Nintendo. I was sitting on the floor in front of the TV about to play F-Zero. Before I could change to channel 3, Richard Lewis came on and began ranting about all the great reasons grownups would want to drink box juice. At the end of each diatribe, Lewis would take a sip of BoKu, mug for the camera and say “Is that too much to ask?!”
The people at BoKu were onto something, they correctly saw an opportunity to sell juice drinks to more than just children though they didn’t get it quite right. BoKu envisioned a “new normal” in which it would be socially acceptable for a sophisticated adult to order a box juice in a comedy club, or pack a BoKu in their lunch for work instead of Coca-Cola Classic. “I’ve had it.” said Lewis in the commercials. “People invite me to a party, I’m bringing my own BoKu!”
Around the time Richard Lewis was on TV barking about BoKu, other juice drinks like Snapple were finding success nationwide and entering into pop culture. Snapple and its ’90s fruit juice cohorts were embraced by beverage aficionados of all ages. Snapple came in glass bottles with quirky messages under the caps and promoted a persona that was bright and fun. BoKu missed out on that broader appeal, and was in your face about being the only box juice for adults.
Unfortunately, after an initial burst of intense popularity, BoKu never got traction with the general public. Later incarnations of BoKu would become watered down and forgettable, adopting the straw and flashy colors of mainstream box juices before being dropped from the market entirely in 2003.
Richard Lewis was a survivor though. He went on to have an endorsement deal with Snapple.