Part of German sportswear giant Adidas’ campaign for the
2016 Copa America soccer tournament included a series of promotional images and
designs featuring stars from Colombia’s national team.  The Colombian team is currently ranked the
third best men’s soccer team in the world by FIFA, and boasts some of the
largest names in the game, including James Rodriguez of Real Madrid and Juan
Cuadrado of Juventus.  The campaign seems
straight-forward enough—showcase some of the tournament’s stars wearing their
country’s jerseys, which are made by Adidas, with their country’s name proudly

Unfortunately for Adidas, the company’s promotional
featured the South American nation spelled as “Columbia,” not
“Colombia.”  To be crystal clear,
Colombia with an “O” is the name of a South American nation home to roughly 50
million people; Columbia with a “U” is the name of a prominent American
university, a sportswear line, and a county in New York State.

Social media was quick to ridicule Adidas for the
gaffe.  Maria Elisa Camargo, an actress
on Colombian television, tweeted: “@adidas @adidasfootball DUDE,
honestly?!  Didn’t expect that level of
ignorance coming from such a brand.
COLOMBIA.”  The blunder was criticized
as an “epic mistake,” “unacceptable,” and “idiotic.”

A spokeswoman for Adidas responded, “We value our
partnership with the Colombian Football Federation and apologize for our
mistake.  We removed these graphics and
are quickly installing new versions.”
She added that the mistake only happened in the US.  

Adidas’ apology doesn’t mean much, particularly to
Colombians and Colombian-Americans.  In
fact, there’s little that Adidas could have done to makes amends—the best they
could do was to issue a formal apology and hope that this goes away quietly.  

In culturally-sensitive marketing, attention to detail is
extremely important.  By misspelling
Colombia, Adidas came off not only as unprofessional, but as culturally
ignorant—something particularly bad for business, considering that most
foreigners already have a perception of Americans that depicts them as
ignorant, intolerant, and self-absorbed.
It also doesn’t help that Adidas has manufactured the Colombian national
team’s jerseys since 2011.  What does
their gaffe say about their enthusiasm in regards to their partnership with the
Colombian Football Federation?

Colombia is a prominent South American nation home to 50
million people, and Colombian-Americans make up the largest South American
ethnic group in the United States, where the Copa America is held this year and
where Adidas is headquartered and most of their ads appear.  Alienating all of these consumers is, quietly
simply, not good.

Here are two simple ways that Adidas could have avoided
their current predicament:

  1. Had a native speaker, or at least a
    Colombian-American, check anything going public for culturally-sensitive
     As one of the largest
    sportswear brands in the world, Adidas should have been able to find a native
    speaker to review their promotional content for potential errors.  A Colombian, or Colombian-American, would
    have picked up on the misspelling immediately, no doubt.
  2. Done their homework.  Historically, brands have come under fire for
    .  As such a large,
    internationally prominent brand, Adidas should have been aware of any potential
    pitfalls in multicultural/culturally-sensitive marketing.  Thus, they should have done their homework,
    regardless of whether or not the misspelling was immediately apparent.  Attention to detail is key in
    culturally-sensitive marketing, and sometimes all it takes to realize a glaring
    mistake is for someone to double-check something or a second pair of eyes.

This gaffe shouldn’t terribly hurt Adidas’ bottom-line in
regards to product sold. However, in a
world where massive sportswear brands—Nike, Adidas, Puma, Umbro, etc.—are vying
for dominance, Adidas’ slip-up could cost them big-time.

If the Colombian Football Federation decides
to have their jerseys manufactured by another brand moving forward, Adidas will
have lost a huge client and will be kicking themselves for this foolish,
very-avoidable mistake—especially with the 2018 World Cup, the world’s largest,
most-watched sporting event, right around the corner.

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Contributor: Jack Haandraadts, Account Coordinator at Marketing Maven