It's Colombia, not Columbia

erasing attitudes about an entire country through an O and a U.

It's Colombia, not Columbia. It's not simply the spelling of our name, but how it represents the misconceptions and ignorance held by our neighbors of what the country has achieved. If you can't spell it correctly, how can you understand how far we've come?

In 2013 we were invited to Social Media Week NYC to talk about social media in Colombia and our experience having organized Social Media Week Bogotá three times in the past. Their email read: “Do you guys from Columbia want to come to our conference?”. Our response was: “Thanks. We'll be there and the name of our conference is 'It's Colombia, not Columbia’”.

Together with our friends at Compass Branding, we felt it was an opportunity to use the misspelling of the country’s name as an excuse to start a much larger conversation. A conversation to redefine what people all over the world think about Colombia, based on stereotypes created by negative coverage for the past few decades. We understood the past, but we were not repeating it now, and wanted the world to know.

It also happened to be a great experiment in preparation for our presentation in NYC. A way to start a movement with a purpose, and to show how social media could be used to talk about the country in a meaningful, and accurate way. Having started one month before the event, the campaign took off quickly, mainly via Facebook. By the time Social Media Week kicked off in NYC, we had more than 5k organic likes, and incredibly high engagement rates. No small feat for a $0 budget.

Then it happened. Almost overnight. People, friends of Zemoga at first, began sharing our content and people were proudly wearing the hats and T-shirts we gave away as an image of pride and solidarity. And not just Colombians. Celebrities and politicians. We even were invited to be part of Cannes Lions Festival in France in 2012 where we were given a booth dedicated to the campaign and social movement that now had a life of its own.

It was only a matter of time before we could get the attention of the media in NYC. When the moment came, the campaign exploded thanks to the coverage by the very entities that often get the spelling wrong. The Wall Street Journal did a front page article and then followed up a year later to see what effect we had made.

Four years later, the campaign is still very active with a large community still engaged, still policing the media in all its forms and making sure that when they misstep, they are called out in a respectful, but none the less authentic way. And they respond to our outreach in kind, often openly admitting their mistake in their social channels, thereby furthering our mission to correct it.


The role we played

  • Social Content Strategy
  • UX Design
  • Visual Design
  • Motion Design
  • PR
  • Project Management


A need identified, an idea born

Given the need of talking about Colombia but taking aim at a larger opportunity for conversation and exposure, the idea was easy. This is not a rare mistake. Our Colombian staffers have grown up seeing their country’s name misspelled everywhere.

International media and celebrities very commonly spell the country’s name wrong. We had a message for them.
International media and celebrities very commonly spell the country’s name wrong. We had a message for them.

Design thinking

Spreading the message via Facebook

One thing we knew from the get go was that the message needed to be spread by Colombians all over the world. This would allow us to create buzz not only in Colombia but also beyond the borders of the country, where the error occurs.

To empower these users, we needed a channel that allowed us to share different types of content easily, but more than anything, we needed a share functionality to be available.

This is how a Facebook page became the hub of the campaign and the engine behind its success.

Social Media

The Internet loved it

A viral campaign is hard to create, let alone predict it will. But we knew we had something here. A sentence as simple as “It’s Colombia Not Columbia” was easy for people to own and it spread very quickly. It was already part of their conversation as Colombians. The media in the US picked up on this which helped us increase our reach organically.

More than 40 media outlets in the US and the world showcased the campaign.


The audience bought the idea, literally

What started as a massive t-shirt giveaway at the beginning of the campaign turned into something a bit more complex. As marketers, we had the foresight to trademark the moniker which began what has become a stand alone brand that is sold in every Colombian Airport nationwide. Colombians abroad asked us to put them on sale online, so we did. We also went ahead and produced all types of merchandise to be sold in stores. One obvious choice. A coffee cup.

Thanks to this, people were able to support the idea and its content beyond the digital realm, in places all over the world, and we made a few bucks to help support the effort.


Content Strategy

Our campaign goes full vip

As a natural side effect, but also as a great way to amplify the message, a large number of Colombian celebrities started to wear the message and get the idea even further by sharing selfies in their social channels.

This is something that happened at the beginning of the campaign and keeps happening to this day.

Taken from Juanes’ Facebook page in September, 2016Taken from Juanes’ Facebook page in September, 2016

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