Coca-Cola Crisis Management Fail: Lessons Ignored

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    Coca-Cola Crisis Management Fail: Ignoring Basics

    Always ask, “Who could be offended by this?”

    When launching a major promo for a product, it’s Crisis Management 101, it’s very important to do your homework to ensure that you won’t be creating an ugly situation in the process. After reading about Coca-Cola’s latest marketing #fail there should be no doubts as to why. Here’s what went down, as reported by PRDaily’s Kevin Allen:

    Coca-Cola is apologizing profusely (and rightfully so) after a Canadian girl opened a bottle of Vitaminwater to find the words “You Retard” printed under the cap.

    Blake Loates and her family were especially offended due to the fact that Loates’ younger sister, 11-year-old Fiona, has cerebral palsy and autism.

    Her father, Doug, sent a strongly worded letter:

    “What would you do if you opened up your bottle of Vitamin Water and on the bottom of the lid it read, “YOU RETARD”? Think about it. I bet you’d be pissed off if you had a Fiona in your life… Can you imagine if SHE had opened this bottle?”

    In a public apology from the beverage distributor, Coca-Cola spokesperson Shannon Denny told ABC News:

    “We have spoken to the family to offer our sincerest apologies and to explain the production process to them. This is certainly not an excuse in any way for what has occurred. We wanted them to know that this was in no way intentional and was a mistake on our part during the review process. We also wanted to share that the promotion has since been cancelled and we are no longer producing bottles with those caps.”

    OK on the apology. Well done there, but Coca-Cola’s explanation for the mistake was simply ridiculous:

    Representatives for Coca-Cola have since stated that the language inside of the cap was the product of a competition pairing one random English word with a second random French word. In French, “retard” means “late” or “delayed.”

    To make matters worse, Coca-Cola already had warnings that their marketing trick could have unintended consequences. According to, “Coca-Cola got a similar complaint from another consumer who had the word “douche” printed on a bottle cap. In French, that’s the word for shower.”

    If you're not asking what could go wrong you're gonna have a bad time meme

    We understand the enormous pressure that’s being exerted upon advertising departments to push out the next edgy, viral campaign and a crisis management fails, but slow your roll, people. Nobody enjoys having their “brilliant” ideas shot down, but you really do need that guy in the room who’s always asking who could be offended, how other cultures might interpret things, or, just to take a totally random idea, researching what might come up when you combine words from your English and French word lists for a bottle cap promo…

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management 101

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also the editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]