Bad luck or a promotion campaign lost in translation?

To give its VitaminWater a boost, the Canadian branch of Coca-Cola decided to launch the good old “under-the-cap” promotion campaign. The idea was to print random words on the bottle caps, so they can be collected, arranged into phrases, and then sent-in for prizes. Clear, simple, and efficient. Right? Well, not so much.

Canada, as I am sure many of you already know, is a bilingual country, with French being the second official language next to English. And this is precisely where things have all the potential in the world to go wrong. Instead of sticking to the somewhat traditional way of targeting French and English speaking markets separately, Coca-Cola decided to kill two birds with one stone, by featuring two words – one in each language, on the same cap.

The campaign backfired last month, when Blake Loates, of Edmonton, Alberta, found the words “YOU RETARD“ printed on the underside of her cap. “You” being the English word and “Retard” being the French word for “late”.

A surprise under the cap // Blake Loates/Facebook

A surprise under the cap // Blake Loates/Facebook

The occasional bilingual faux pas is anything but new in Canada, and most people have learned to take them with a certain dose of humor. But here is where things got terribly wrong. The message was particularly hurtful to the Alberta family, because Blake’s younger sister has cerebral palsy and autism. That same day, Blake’s father wrote a letter to the Coca-Cola board of directors, expressing his anger and signing off as “ex-Coke drinker”. Blake posted it on her Facebook page, and since then, it has been shared over a thousand times and has gotten even more likes and social media exposure. Coca-Cola’s apology came with no delay, issuing a formal statement that same week.

Although native speakers in both languages had checked the selected content for anything potentially inappropriate, the words were printed and paired at random. This “oversight” in not reviewing the words “from both an English and French perspective”, as the Coca-Cola spokesperson admitted, ended up costing the entire campaign. The company cancelled the contest and destroyed all promotional caps in its facilities.

To give its VitaminWater a boost, the Canadian branch of Coca-Cola decided to launch the good old “under-the-cap” promotion campaign. The idea was to print random words on the bottle caps, so they can be collected, arranged into phrases, and then sent-in for prizes. Clear, simple, and efficient. Right? Well, not so much.

Canada, as I am sure many of you already know, is a bilingual country, with French being the second official language next to English. And this is precisely where things have all the potential in the world to go wrong. Instead of sticking to the somewhat traditional way of targeting French and English speaking markets separately, Coca-Cola decided to kill two birds with one stone, by featuring two words – one in each language, on the same cap.

The campaign backfired last month, when Blake Loates, of Edmonton, Alberta, found the words “YOU RETARD“ printed on the underside of her cap. “You” being the English word and “Retard” being the French word for “late”.

A surprise under the cap // Blake Loates/Facebook

A surprise under the cap // Blake Loates/Facebook

The occasional bilingual faux pas is anything but new in Canada, and most people have learned to take them with a certain dose of humor. But here is where things got terribly wrong. The message was particularly hurtful to the Alberta family, because Blake’s younger sister has cerebral palsy and autism. That same day, Blake’s father wrote a letter to the Coca-Cola board of directors, expressing his anger and signing off as “ex-Coke drinker”. Blake posted it on her Facebook page, and since then, it has been shared over a thousand times and has gotten even more likes and social media exposure. Coca-Cola’s apology came with no delay, issuing a formal statement that same week.

Although native speakers in both languages had checked the selected content for anything potentially inappropriate, the words were printed and paired at random. This “oversight” in not reviewing the words “from both an English and French perspective”, as the Coca-Cola spokesperson admitted, ended up costing the entire campaign. The company cancelled the contest and destroyed all promotional caps in its facilities.