Word games have been used as promotions for a very long time. For the most part these run smoothly and never cause offence. However, mixing languages can cause lots of unintended consequences – as a recent promotion by Vitaminwater, whose parent company is Coca-Cola, demonstrates.
The promotion used a random word from English and a random word from French. What was seemingly innocent and fun wordplay turned out to be quite offensive for a family in Canada.
When Blake Loates was having dinner with her husband, she opened up a bottle of Vitaminwater and noticed the words “You Retard” on the bottom of the bottle cap. She told the Canadian press that her first thought was that it was the work of a prankster or an unhappy employee.
“We were both really, really shocked,” she also said to the press, noting that Coca-Cola – as a large, global company – shouldn’t make such mistakes.
Vitaminwater later explained what had happened. The words “You Retard” were actually the English “You” followed by the French word for delayed or slow, namely “Retard”.
Her father, Doug, was even more bothered considering that both younger daughters have disabilities. Doug sent a letter to the Coca-Cola Board of Directors where he explained the situation and how upset he was. He also added, “My daughter has Cerebral Palsy and still feeds with a tube. She is cognitively delayed. Fifty years ago they might have called her retarded. But we know better now, don’t we?”
Coca-Cola immediately responded and apologised for the trouble caused, blaming it on lack of reviews of the words that were joined together and printed on the bottle caps.