In New Zealand, the language of the country’s indigenous Maori people, Te reo Moori, has recently been undergoing a resurgence in popularity and use throughout the country of 5 million people, and according to report by The Guardian newspaper, big business has taken note of the trend, often mixing words and phrases from the Maori language into their marketing and advertising materials.
But sometimes the efforts of big corporations to appear “authentic” can go horribly wrong — and that’s exactly what happened to the Coca-Cola company. The venerable soft drink giant tried out a new slogan on vending machines in New Zealand recently, but made the mistake of mixing the Maori language with English slang, according to a report by the Quartzy newsletter.
One sharp-eyed Twitter user noticed the slogan “Kia Ore, Mate” on a Coke machine in New Zealand. According to the Guardian report, the phrase “Kia Ore” is a common Maori greeting, which translates in straightforward fashion into English as “Hello.”
But Coke apparently intended the word “mate” to be the slang term for “friend,” or “buddy,” widely used not only in Britain but in New Zealand and Australia as well as many other English-speaking countries. The problem was, after reading the first two words in the Maori language, “mate” was read as a Maori word as well.
When the languages don't mix well. pic.twitter.com/3piZIoptAE— Waikato Reo (@waikatoreo) October 14, 2018
In the Maori language, the word “mate” is pronounced “mah-teh,” according to Quartzy — and is the Te reo Maori word for “death.” In other words, the Coca-Cola company was greeting its thirsty customers with the slogan, “Hello, Death.”
Twitter users found the bizarre, accidental slogan amusing and ironic.
"Hello, death" is a literal translation of what drinking coke will do to your body. And what plastic coke bottles are doing to the environment... #tereo #saynotoplastic #obesityepidemic https://t.co/aJL8aNxWMz— Kirsten McKenzie (@Kiwimrsmac) October 16, 2018
'Hello, death': Coca-Cola mixes English and Māori on vending machine - and lets us all know what the end result of drinking their stuff could be! https://t.co/O0xRZQyRZx— DaveMac (@davemacpherson7) October 16, 2018
Somewhat ironic though.— WomenAotearoaNZ (@WeavingHouse) October 14, 2018
According to Quartzy, the word “can also be used to mean misfortune, problem, trouble, calamity, or disease,” none of which makes the “Kia Ore, Mate” slogan much better.
The Guardian reached out to the Coca-Cola company in New Zealand but did not receive a comment on the disturbing vending machine slogan. But numerous large corporations have begun tailoring their marketing and products to the Maori market. Google recently debuted a version of its search engine in the Maori language, according to the New Zealand Herald.
Disney released a Maori-language version of its blockbuster animated film Moana in New Zealand, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
“There’s an increasing sense that te reo is good for identifying your business as committed to New Zealand,” Ngahiwi Apanui, of New Zealand’s Maori Language Commission, told The Guardian.