|#PRFail: Coke Canada Calls Customers 'Douche' and 'Retard'
By: Shawn Paul Wood
For most who know me, they would tell you that I love to have fun and poke a friendly jab at people from time to time. I suppose it's because the stupid ice cream man never had the Pink Panther head with the gumball eyes I wanted, so he would say, "Come on, kid. You suck." So, I would end up getting a ring pop instead at his request. Only after I got home and told my mother about the nice man's recommendation did the epiphany take place.
Sarcasm. Playing the dozens. Poking fun. It is in the nature of many people to break the ice in some situations with a joke. I'm sure one of those type of folk
work...worked at Coca-Cola Canada when this short-lived marketing campaign came up in a whiteboard meeting, everyone applauded and shared the obligatory high-five, and off to market it went. That is, until a woman from Edmonton raised three kinds of hell when she cracked open a bottle of Coke's product Vitamin Water and read a cap that shouted "You retard!"
What the what?!
In fact, other caps were reported to read "You are a douche." Keeping it classy, Coke...eh? When all else fails, just blame a language barrier, right? That's what Dudley Do-Right would do if he wasn't so ridiculously wrong in the first place. According to CTVNews.com, it was a big sentence diagram contest with words that were supposed to be taken in their "literal sense":
Shannon Denny with Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada says consumers were supposed to collect the caps to combine words into humorous sentences. Denny says the problem was that the word lists for each language were approved separately and that in French, "retard" simply means late. In addition to cancelling the campaign, the company says it will be destroying all of the caps with words printed on them.
Denny also added that "douche" is French for shower. You know, I'm half Canadian (proudly). Dual citizen in fact. I have cousins that play professional hockey. I say that to say this. That PR explanation is, as some of my family would say in a literal sense, "C'est des conneries." If you are without Google translator, I believe that means "This is B.S."
Considering no one at Coca-Cola has hired some fraud psychic, how in the world do you know some person who was bullied won't unscrew that cap, read "You are a douche," and think to himself or herself, "Yeah. I just worked out. I'm sweating like a pig at a county fair that knows it's about to be dinner. I stink. I do need a shower. Thanks, Coke."
Better yet, take a kid who is mentally challenged. Well, you already know that will not end with the child thinking he or she is slightly tardy for a dentist appointment. "Late" and "Shower." Child, please.
What's next? Dropping some homophobic term under the cap thinking a fan of Vitamin Water is going to start jonesin' for a cigarette? How about some exclamatory term for an angry woman, but your spin is that the consumer will just miss his or her dog at home...that happens to be a female.
I'm the last person to play politically correct on anything. Personally, it seems to me the first person to yell "I'm offended" in a crowded room is typically the pain in the butt who is usually doing the offending most of the time. That said, this was a stoo-pid idea! On what planet would you think using a term that has its own campaign to eradicate said term would be considered a good giggle?
Pity for the marketing genius behind this misguided campaign that the person from Edmonton was Blake Loates. She has an 11-year-old sister with cerebral palsy and autism. You think a consumer with that constant memory saw "You retard" on a cap of Vitamin Water and thought, "Ah, damn. I'm late for work. I love Vitamin Water." No, she threw that bottle through a window, but not before she took a picture of the cap, which is pictured above. So, yeah, I guess it worked, because the global PR industry got the laugh here.
Thanks, Coke. Indeed.
Shawn Paul Wood
is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here
or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood