Vitaminwater’s Translation Blunder

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Canadian Vitaminwater consumers were left with a bitter taste in their mouths last week following a translation gaffe. Vitaminwater’s parent company, Coca-Cola, had to apologize for the multilingual marketing campaign that went awry, with insults and slurs printed on the bottle caps.

The concept behind the campaign was actually not bad. A random French and a random English word were printed underneath the cap of each bottle of Vitaminwater, so consumers could collect the bottle caps and make sentences out of the words. Fun, right?

Unfortunately, when it comes to languages, the devil is often in the details. In this case, some words that are innocuous in French are offensive in English. Like “retard,” which means “late” in French. Or “douche,” which means “shower” in French.

So, when Edmonton photographer Blake Loats opened a Vitaminwater at a restaurant last week, she was shocked and offended to find the phrase “you retard” written under the cap.  She found the insult especially galling since she has a disabled younger sibling.  Loats did what anyone else would do under such circumstances- she snapped a photo with her phone and posted it to Facebook, along with an angry letter written by her father and a picture of her sister.  It promptly went viral. Not how you would want your brand to be represented online, is it?

Oh, and according to the Edmonton Journal, another customer did indeed find the word “douche” on his bottlecap. Nice!

The promotion is off, all of the offending bottles are being destroyed, and Coca-Cola has issued a formal apology. A company spokesman told the Huffington Post:

“We sincerely apologize for this mistake. It was certainly not our intention to offend anybody. The process of printing [English and French] words on the caps is completely random, and it’s unfortunate that in this instance, it resulted in an offensive pairing,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson told HuffPost Business. “It was an oversight on our part that we didn’t review the words from both an English and French perspective.”