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Coca-Cola Apologizes For ‘Retard’ Message On Bottle Cap


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Coca-Cola is in hot water with a consumer whose daughter opened a Vitamin Water bottle with the message “You retard” on the cap. The man has another daughter with cerebral palsy.

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.

His 11-year-old daughter, Fiona, has cerebral palsy and is fed through a feeding tube. His other, older daughter got the “You retard” message on a Vitamin Water bottle cap during a restaurant visit.

This made Loates write a letter to the Coca-Cola board of directors to express how hurtful the message felt to Fiona’s family.

“She is cognitively delayed. Fifty years ago they might have called her retarded. But we know better now, don’t we?” Loates wrote. “The ‘R’ word is considered a swear word in our family. We don’t use it. We don’t tolerate others using it around us. We are over-sensitive, but you would be too if you had Fiona for a daughter! Can you imagine if she had opened this bottle???”

Loates compared it to calling someone the “N” word.

“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 if you had a Fiona in your life,” he wrote.

He said he’d been drinking Coke since he was nine and got his first newspaper route, but now calls himself an “ex-Coke drinker.”

Coca-Cola told Metro that the unfortunate Mad Lib word pairing was unintentional, and that the random words had been reviewed for offensive meanings in French but not in English.

“We did not mean to offend at all,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson told Metro. “We are certainly very apologetic for this oversight.”

The spokesperson said Coca-Cola has cancelled the rest of the promotion and destroyed the remaining caps that were part of it.

© 2013 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Comments (18 Responses)

  1. Teri says:

    I agree with this dad. We don’t use that word either. And our friends/family are joining us on this decision. Please think before using this word because it is very offensive and hurtful!

  2. Jefferson Phillips says:

    Looks like Coca Coal has shown good faith in this matter, going the extra distance to destroy the offending caps and to stop the campaign. Had there been intentional harm, I believe the harm would have been greater and pervasive – but that seems not to be the case. None of us can see around the corners of our lives, and the best we can do is how we respond when we become aware of harm our actions have caused. Good job – Coke! If I had been enjoying their drink since I was 9 I would not quit them now, especially as they have shown good not bad faith. he ought to reserve his judgment for those who refuse to change and should not punish those whose intention was not harmful/

  3. soricobob says:

    C’mon Coke, you can come up with a better one than that. Your PR person must have really scurried to hook up that excuse!

  4. PBMom says:

    I believe Coca-Cola needs to go one step further. They need to put out PSA’s educating people that it is not okay to use the “R” word in describing someone with an intellectual disability. I don’t care if the harm was intentional or not. Someone in their employ okayed this pairing. Their explanation does not make sense. What sense is it to say, “YOU LATE!” Whoever okayed this in their employ needs some sensitivity training. I want to acknowledge people’s good-faith efforts to try to change language. I am not going to launch a boycott of Coke just because of the incident. I have a child with severe autism and other disabilities who has intellectual disabilities as well. But it would be a good public relations to go one step further than just apologize, and use the opportunity to educate. The people-first language movement says this, “People with disabilities should acknowledge sincere efforts to change old language habits. “Politically correct” disability language is often presented in an overly oppressive way. As a result, people without disabilities, but with good intentions, may decide that trying to affirm and include people with disabilities isn’t worth the effort.”

  5. David Miles says:

    I would agree that words can be very harmful. Look at the teasing (Bullying) of that girl who decided to quit life and ended it all. Words hit you in the inner part of you that make up your mind and emotions, if it builds up then it starts bring that person down. I have been taught on how to talk to and about people I will not let my grandchildren use inappropriate words. I am also a coke drinker and changed from Pepsi to Coke in 1956 or so. I was like 6 years old and next time around the sun will be 65 years. It has been a good and bad ride at times, and barely
    made it at times.

  6. KD says:

    My granddaughter has Down Syndrome and normally that would have been offensive to me also. We don’t use that word in our world either. After I learned that the bottle cap was a mistake in judgement or lack of monitoring/reviewing on Coke’s part, I would have accepted that apology and felt appreciative that they destroyed the remaining bottle caps and cancelled the rest of the promotion. That in itself would have shown me that they didn’t do anything intentionally harmful. it is unfortunate that that dad had to find this particular cap and yet, I’m glad it was him so that he could address the issue!

  7. tamara jones says:

    that’s just an apology, i think not. do better then that !!!! WHAT THE FRICK!!!!!!!!

  8. marie camp says:

    This company is trying to get publicity,since they are probably loosing sales. They no better to pull a stunt like this and they did. It was totally uncalled for and very disrespectful.

  9. Laurie LaGoe says:

    I was called “Retard” throughout my childhood and adolescence. That gave the bullies an “excuse” to gang up on me, hit me, and keep me from having a seat on the school bus and the cafeteria in school. My mother told me I had a right to go to school without being beat up every day. The principal called my parents up because I cussed and swore at them. I was blamed over and over for being a victim

    Now I have no tolerance for any kind of bigotry-racism, sexism or homo centrism.

  10. Heather Hudson says:

    Yep totally peeved/disgusted/appalled and offended. I have two sons with severe disabilities and was an avid lover of coca cola products-no more-I totally agree with this father and my heart goes out to him and his family-highly offensive word in the extreme I too cannot tolerate nor stand that disgusting insultive word and it is equavelant to hate in my opinion.

  11. Diane says:

    I find it hard to believe a big company like Coca-Cola doesn’t have a marketing department that reviews all promotional material before it goes out. Shame on them! They will have to do much more than an apology to get my business back.

  12. Nana Geraci says:

    I have to agree with PBMom. Come on, Coke! Take it one step further and do a public relations campaign. Apologizing isn’t enough!

  13. Pamela Dahl says:

    I also have cerebral palsy, and I don’t tolerant being called “retarded”!!! Many people with cerebral palsy have typical or above IQ’s.

    Pam Dahl

  14. Pamela Dahl says:

    Coca-Cola should have done a better job at reviewing the meanings of their bottle cap messages!!

    – Pam Dahl

  15. Scout says:

    Some of the commenters don’t seem to have actually read the article: It was a mistake. They corrected it and apologized. They did not, at all, use it in the sense of calling someone a retard.

    PBMom, you are correct that “you late” does not make sense, but read the article again. The phrases were intended to be gibberish; ie, not make sense.

  16. Alex says:

    What bothers me about these comments is that no one cares that Coke is such an unhealthy drink, and some of them call themselves “ex coke consumers” for a wrong reason! People shouldn’t stop using this junk drink because of the Coca Cola’s marketing faux pas, but because the drink is loaded with sugar. I personally know 2 kids who got diabetes because their parents allowed them coca cola consumption on daily basis.

  17. Erica Cauley says:

    I’m just reading this article and I cannot believe it. If it is a french term then why allow it to be printed on something that will be coming to the US?? The R word is so hurtful and down right disrespectful to people with disabilities and their families. My son has CP and we DO NOT use this word and we do not allow people to use the word around us. I DO understand freedom of speech but I truly think respect comes before that. I Love this dad and his push to express his pain. Everyone SAYS that they understand but you never truly do until you love someone deeply that has a disability and YOU have to be the one that has to stand up for them and care for them. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the use or not, just have a little respect for those of us who have loved ones that you are insulting.

  18. Willie says:

    Retard does mean late in French I took it in high school this was an honest mistake. There are more important issues for DD people than a single offensive slur such as murders of DD people getting lieniant jail sentences that advocates must fight for justice such a life time jail and they should not go overboard board about the R word a mundane campaign pushed by the Special Olympics.

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