The Coca-Cola Company in South Africa has investigated the recent printing of an offensive word on a Coca-Cola can at one of the company’s consumer-focused event as part of its 2019 Share-a-Coke campaign.

The intention of the Share-a-Coke Campaign is to introduce South Africans to each other and encourage social cohesion.  In an evolution of our Share-a-Coke campaign of 2013 and 2014, where the original campaign placed popular South African names on packaging, we added an extra layer this summer season by including the phonetic version/pronunciation of people’s names. In doing so, we hoped to help South Africans to connect and unite on a deeper level by learning each other’s names and how to pronounce them.

The campaign has three elements to it. The main element of the campaign was to place approximately 700 of South Africa’s most popular names on Coca-Cola cans and bottles, which were sold in stores. These names were identified in partnership with the Department of Home Affairs and Stats SA. The names spread across the 11 official languages and were sent to two professional linguists for phonetic treatment, reviewed by various internal approval teams and finally printed, distributed and sold in the market.  The Xitsonga word that led to this incident was not one of these names identified by the Department of Home Affairs, nor was the can marketed or sold by Coca-Cola

A second element of the campaign was the digital activation, where consumers could create their own can online through the campaign website and share a digital version of a Coca-Cola can with their name on it.

A third element is where we directly engaged consumers and provided them with an opportunity to personalise their very own Coke can.  These events and activations were set up at various locations such as shopping malls where consumers could have their name placed on a can. 

 It was at one of these consumer-led activations that one person intentionally requested a word to be printed on a Coke can that is offensive to women in Xitsonga, and then shared it on social media. This can was not sold, nor was it advertised or commercialised by The Coca-Cola Company. Our investigations have shown this one consumer took advantage of and exploited the campaign’s good intentions for their own disreputable reasons. 

When we launched this year’s Share-a-Coke campaign we carefully considered the risks involved and therefore put controls in place to maintain the integrity of the campaign.

Unfortunately, notwithstanding the numerous and stringent controls we have in place, in this isolated instance a consumer was able to print a can with content that has caused offence, particularly to women and the Xitsonga community.  We are very disappointed that the controls we put in place could be taken advantage of in this manner and apologise for this. 

Due to this unfortunate act of a particular person, we took a stand and took remedial action. As of Wednesday 6th February, we have discontinued both the consumer-led and digital elements of the campaign.  The activations will continue for the month of February, but only approved, pre-programmed words and names will be printed on cans.

Overall, ‘Share-a-Coke 2019’ has been very successful in South Africa.  In total over 770,000 consumers enjoyed having their names on Coke cans. We hope our fans will continue to enjoy the Share-a-Coke campaign in South Africa in the spirit of giving and sharing with which it was intended.