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Coca-Cola Removes Slogan Deemed 'Vulgar' by Culture Department

Coca-Cola’s latest promotional campaign has been embroiled in online controversy after it was deemed “vulgar” by a government agency.

At the end of June, the Department of Local Culture, based in Hanoi, issued an official dispatch to culture departments in localities across Vietnam, ordering local officials to work with Coca-Cola Vietnam to adjust its promotional materials, reports Tuoi Tre.

The dispatch says that some of the beverage company’s television commercials and advertising banners bear the tagline “mở lon Việt Nam” (crack open a Vietnam can), which is “vulgar” and “goes against Vietnam’s traditions.” The department also ordered the removal of advertising materials should the company fail to comply.

The Department of Local Culture is a small agency under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, but according to Tuoi Tre, the dispatch was a separate order from the department that didn’t go through the ministry. Since news of the dispatch hit the net, it has caused confusion and become the target of mockery from netizens. Most are bewildered by the department’s assessment that the phrase is vulgar.

On June 29, Department Head Ninh Thi Thu Huong explained to Tuoi Tre why she deems the slogan indecent. “Hypothetically, if people add some diacritics to the word ‘lon’ [can], the phrase ‘lon Việt Nam’ can be troublesome,” she explained in Vietnamese.

She believes that on its own, without the brand Coca-Cola, the word “lon” can be understood in various ways. However, Huong didn’t elaborate in which manner of interpretation the word can be vulgar, but she added that the slogan lacks a preposition between “lon” and “Việt Nam” to clarify the meaning to “crack open a can in Vietnam.”

One Coca-Cola banner featuring the word "lon." Image via Tuoi Tre.

Some linguistic and literature experts, on the other hand, don’t see a problem with the tagline. When asked by Tuoi Tre how she interprets the phrase, Vietnamese literature researcher Nguyen To Nga said: “I just immediately think of opening a can of soft drink. We might think one way, but an official may have other ideas that everything is sensitive.”

Secretary-General of the Linguistic Society of Vietnam Pham Van Tinh told Zing that the word “lon” has five meanings in Vietnamese, none of which affects the decency of the Vietnamese language. Tinh opined that using the addition of diacritics to deem a word “vulgar” is a dangerous train of thought, because there are numerous ways other words can also become sensitive.

On Coca-Cola’s part, they have agreed to alter all promotional materials bearing the allegedly incendiary tagline. Vu Thanh Truc, the company’s PR and Sustainability Manager, explained to VnExpress that “mở lon Việt Nam” is just an instruction to customers to look for promotional codes under the tab once they have opened the can. However, she also acknowledged that the company did not review other semantic aspects of the phrase.

Relevant advertising banners of the campaign have been adjusted to say “Cơ hội trúng vàng mỗi ngày” (There are chances of winning gold every day) instead of “Mở lon Việt Nam.” According to Truc, around 70% of television commercials, digital and physical banners have been updated, and it’s estimated that the old tagline will be completely gone by the beginning of July.


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