Poor translation embarrasses Coca-Cola

‘Hello, Death': Coca-Cola’s New Slogan?

Gareth Seymour was passing through Auckland International Airport in New Zealand when he noticed a Coca-Cola vending machine that said “Kia Ora, mate”. I read with Māori language eyes and thought – they haven’t had this checked by a Māori. He had spotted the poor translation (actually a half translation), which reads very badly to anyone who knows the Māori language.

Te reo Māori is the language of New Zealand’s indigenous people. Kia ora means Hello so no problems there. But ‘mate’ means ‘death’. Indeed, there is a famous Māori haka ‘Ka Mate’ composed by Te Rauparaha around 1820. He was a war leader of the Ngāti Toa tribe of the North Island of New Zealand. The haka is his celebration of life over death and is now a signature chant of the All Blacks rugby team.

In English mate is an informal means of address between men and boys and means friend. Its another of those potentially damaging false friends we discussed in our blog of July 18, 2018.

In a statement Coca-Cola said that In no way was the ‘mate’ in reference to any Maori word, that would have been inappropriate and unacceptable. Instead they were trying bring Maori and English together. But it has backfired massively. Commentators all over social media have suggested the slip-up was a rare moment of honesty from a global giant selling sugary drinks. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of obesity in the developed world, with one in three adults classified as obese. ‘The Coca-Cola company gains self awareness?’ asked one Twitter user.

Don’t let your business make a damaging mistake, become a laughing stock or lose business through poor translation. Call us for professional and accurate translations of your marketing materials, letters and invoices. Yes, even in Maori.

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