Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Coke cap to teenage girl: "You retard"

In Canada, a few weeks ago, a girl opened a bottle of Vitamin Water (owned by Coca-Cola). The cap had two words on it, reading: "You Retard."

She took a picture of it and showed to her father, who immediately contacted the media and wrote to the company. The girl has two younger sisters (age 11), both disabled, one of whom has Cerebral Palsey and is significantly delayed in a number of ways.

I read the story when it first came through and was thoroughly baffled. How could any company possibly think this is ok? An explanation has now emerged:
The messages were part of a Coke promotion in Canada that randomly paired English and French words that together were supposed to make up funny gibberish phrases. But the words were only vetted in French, not English.

“Retard” in French means “late.” But Doug Loates, who does not speak French, didn’t see the humor.
Is what we have here an example of the problems of randomized computer-generated promotions Is this another example of failure related to the exclusion of the human element? Would a real human scanning the list have caught it? Coke's answer is not clear.

What does it mean to vet them in French but not English? Was there an actual human who sat down with all the words and read them and just skipped over "retard" as "non-offensive?" Or did they run some kind of script to check for offensive words and "retard" passed? If an actual human was involved, were they just unaware of the double English/French meaning to "retard" or did they just not care?
The relevant Coke VP says:

“We have learned from this and it was a mistake,” he said. “At no point in time did we intend on offending anyone by any stretch and we have cancelled and moved on and have dealt with this as soon as possible.”
I believe him that no one meant any offense. But I wonder what, exactly, they have "learned." Have they learned to be careful with their tech? Have they learned something about offensive speech? Have they developed "awareness?"

Hopefully, they've learned just to pay a little closer attention to language, because you never know who is going to open your bottle and read the cap.

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