Unfortunately for Coca-Cola, two of America’s favorite French words happen to be classic playground insults: “douche” and “retard.”
The company’s Canadian division created a campaign for its VitaminWater brand in which every bottle cap included one word in French and one in English. The idea was that consumers could collect the combinations and make funny French/English combinations, and while we weren’t exactly clear what the point of the campaign would be, it quickly turned south for the company.
As soon as a VitaminWater consumer happened to share this particular cap on Facebook it turned into a big bust, primarily because fan Blake Loates has a sister who suffers from cerebral palsy and autism and her family sees the word as the equivalent of an offensive slur.
The crisis response simply wasn’t enough despite the fact that Coke Canada director of brand communications Shannon Denny patiently explained to The Globe and Mail and ABC News that these words are completely innocuous in French: “douche” means shower while “retard” means late or delayed. The company threw up its hands and conceded defeat immediately because once this sort of thing goes viral, there’s no real way to dial it down. Denny said:
We have spoken to the family to offer our sincerest apologies and to explain the production process to them. This is certainly not an excuse in any way for what has occurred. We wanted them to know that this was in no way intentional and was a mistake on our part during the review process.
Coke did the very best they could to minimize the damage, but this story immediately reminded us of the Amazon “keep calm and rape a lot” t-shirt controversy. Even the best promo ideas can’t beat the fact that, over time, the likelihood that a random content generator will produce something offensive approaches 100%.
*Image via Blake Loates/THE CANADIAN PRESS