I made an epic copywriting fail last week.
Aside from the general horror of this realization, I found this to be a perfect TEACHABLE MOMENT, to prevent y'all from making the same mistake. The learning lessons here will be well worth it, I promise!!
In one line of text, I potentially offended an entire culture of people. (Ahhhhhh......FML.)
After sending out an email marketing message a few days ago, I signed off the email with a preview of a feature about a Hawaiian trip, where I planned on deconstructing strengths and weaknesses of Hawaiian brands.
That part was fine, but then I made a totally (what I considered) a cheeky reference to the infamous movie Wayne's World, and I signed off with "Oooka aka laki, Come on someone Lei Me."
Now I am ALL for being edgy. I even think offending people to get them to "Think" can be a great thing, but I am pretty big advocate of not breeding hate or misogyny or degrading cultures by any means.
I not only got the quote wrong, but it was brought to my attention (by a Native Hawaiian follower) that my quote and mix up made it sound like I was mocking the Hawaiian language and their history of the "lei." She described it as potentially something that could hurt my brand, not to mention it was "tired and juvenile."
This was needless to say, a bit jarring and eye opening to see what one little line could do.
I will preface this by saying I am NOTORIOUS for getting idioms, metaphors, and quotes wrong in when I recite them from memory. To be really honest with you....
I AM KIND OF AN IDIOT ABOUT IDIOMS!
...and a variety of other misspoken sayings....For example, I have been known to say things like "I'm not the smartest tool in the shed." (Apparently not the sharpest, either, haha!) So this is not an out of character thing for me, but definitely not intentionally trying to offend anyone.
I thought everyone would remember this random quote from Wayne's World, and think it was quirky and funny. What I didn't realize is the huge mistake I had made!
Here's the thing, after researching the quote a bit more, Wayne from Wayne's world was doing something sort of clever....(where I had totally missed the boat!)
The actual quote was "Muka Laka Hiki, Come on you wanna lay me." What I didn't realize is that Wayne in Wayne's world was ACTUALLY saying a Hawaiian phrase, since he said it verbally we don't know if he was saying "lei or lay" my assumption there. It could have been borderline offensive but not as offensive as him just making up words to sound like a language.
What is sort of brilliant about Wayne's version "Muka Laka Hiki's" translation is "Muka - n. Lip-smacking, sound of lips popped open.... Laka - Attracted to, fond of Hiki - ....so a direct translation would be something like "Certainly attracted to lip-smacking." (Deingesit, Answers.com) The real translation is "I like to kiss." What a beautiful phrase I had totally and completely bastardized.
Three learning lessons to avoid this type of sitch....
- When quoting a movie or a person, make sure you double check it's exact, do it properly (word for word) or you leave room for mistranslating or paraphrasing and it losing it's value, or losing people that don't understand where the quote is from. You want to give credit where the quote came from to prevent this from happening. I must have looked like a real idiotic bigot to my beloved Hawaiian followers, and for that I feel a bit ashamed.
- Really think about the implication of what you are saying even if you are quoting something as a joke, even if you are quoting something that feels acceptable. There could have been some baby jesus jokes from Will Ferrell's movies that might have been also offensive had I quoted them, and certainly if I did so incorrectly. Just because it's in a movie doesn't make it right.
- Thinking of cultural implications whenever you are creating something that is a "joke" in your branding, it needs to be reviewed. This sort of misinterpretation, has been a problem for some major corporations as well as smaller companies. One STD phone app called Hula, that used the phrase "Getting Lei'd" in it's branding, and the Hawaiian community was in outrage to the point where they had to re-brand themselves. Another big time issue happened for the Milk campaign "Got Milk" was not properly translated and to their spanish speaking markets it was actually read as "Are you lactating?" --- Or the car name Pinto, is translated into Brazilian slang as "tiny male genitals" -- These things, while somewhat comical, were certainly not comical to the company's who were failing with them. Here's an article on other famous brands that had issues with translations in other countries.
Thanks to the native Hawaiian follower that brought this to my attention. I really, really, really appreciate the learning lesson, and I hope that all of you have learned from my mistake too!