Coca-Cola loses its fizz after insulting customer

22 Sep

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Have you heard the one about Coca-Cola calling one of its customers a ‘retard‘ via its latest promotion?

Ok, maybe you haven’t because it happened in Canada. But here’s what happened:

Blake Loates bought home a bottle of Coca-Cola’s Vitamin Water earlier this week and she was in for a shock when she unscrewed the cap, which read ‘You Retard’ on the inside. Some people may have found it funny (personally I don’t, and even less so coming from a global brand) but Blake certainly didn’t because her sister suffers from cerebral palsy.

Her father wrote a letter of disgust forcing Coca-Cola to own up to its politically incorrect mistake – which it did quite well. But the reason the brand manager (or PR) cited for the inappropriate wording was a language mix up (‘retard’ meaning ‘delayed’ or ‘late’ in French), which relates a wider promotion the brand was running.

The fact that more people may have or will continue to open up the phrase before the manufacturing process is discontinued is shocking – and the fact that Coca-Cola has undone its apology to the family, by not noticing the mistake long before it went public, is dumb.

There’s some small-scale crisis management to be done now, in my opinion, because consumers won’t remember the story being a water bottle lid ‘lost in translation’, it’ll become ‘Coca-Cola calls cerebral palsy teenager a retard’. But for some reason the drinks company has put this issue to the bottom of its ‘to do’ list as it looks to push ahead with its international obesity campaign.

Of course a stunt like this won’t damage a brand like that, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t show empathy. I’d have liked to have seen Coca-Cola show some personality by making the Loates family feel like a valued customer and sending some freebies. Essentially, the company needs the family to publicly say the right things to override the negative comments so everyone can see that the situation was dealt with.

This time, Coca-Cola might not have lost its bottle with the complaint, but it’s certainly lost its fizz.

Would this bad PR put you off your favourite soft drink?

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