Coca-Cola recently released an advert on vending machines here in New Zealand that featured both Māori and English text with the copy reading “Kia Ora, Mate”. However, Coca-Cola’s attempts at appealing to Kiwi culture fell flat, as the English word “mate” is also the Māori word for ”death” or “sickness”. If you look at the advert as a Māori text it reads “Hello, death”, which is not exactly the message they were trying to get across.
Social media users on Twitter were quick to point out the error, with some even making the tongue in-cheek suggestion that Coca-Cola were playing off the health risks associated with a high sugar diet, and its links to obesity, as a marketing opportunity.
A spokesperson from New Zealand based Coca-Cola Amatil, issued the following message:
The Kia ora is in obvious reference to our New Zealand heritage through our indigenous Maori language, and the term ‘mate’ is a commonly used English phrase for friend. The two words were only meant to bring Maori and English together, nothing more. In no way was the term ‘mate’ in reference to any Maori word.
This avoidable incident highlights the cross-cultural issues that can arise when working between languages. In this case there was no actual mistranslation, and it is easy to see how this message would have passed the various approval stages that marketing campaigns go through. Issues like this are always possible when you are unfamiliar with the language and culture you are communicating in.
If you have any concerns about how your message will be received let us know. Our team can highlight and advise of any potential issues and make sure the joke is not on you.