It's Colombia, NOT Columbia: Changing The Image Of A Country Through Social Media

Changing The Image Of A Country One 'Like' At A Time
The Team Behind "It's Colombia, NOT Columbia"


Social Media week is winding down, but there's a campaign that's only beginning to pick up steam. With nearly 9,000 Facebook 'Likes' since its launch on Feb. 7, the campaign "It's Colombia, NOT Columbia" has become the voice of millions around the world who have spent decades correcting people who misspell the South American country. HuffPost spoke with Carlos Pardo, Vice President of Operations for Zemoga, the Bogotá-based digital agency behind the campaign, to discuss their inspiration and goals moving forward.

What motivated you start the social media campaign “It’s Colombia, NOT Columbia”?

The story starts when Zemoga and Compass Porter Novelli, a public relations firm, partnered to launch Social Media Week Bogotá. Last September, we invited the founder of Social Media Week on the international level (Toby Daniels) to give a conference at Social Media Week Bogotá and he had the chance to see the event first hand. He was impressed and invited us to give a conference at Social Media Week New York this year. Our goal was to talk about social media in Colombia. Our thesis is essentially that social networks are the best platform for spreading a message and the new image of Colombia. So we decided to create the campaign “It’s Colombia NOT Columbia” to prove it. There are a lot of people in the world who have an outdated impression of Colombia. We are a lot more than coffee, Colombia is a lot more than Pablo Escobar.

You use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, why did you decide to use social networks as a platform to spread your message?

The image that people had of the country was mostly because of what was seen in traditional media and in Hollywood. We don’t want to deny Colombia’s reality or its past but we do want to concentrate on the good things. We think that social networks today have what traditional media had in the past to communicate these messages to people.

The march (A Million Voices Against The FARC) on February 4, 2008 was a demonstration of how someone with access to a computer or phone can reach millions of people and literally mobilize an entire country for a cause. This march was created by a college student who had an idea and was successful in spreading it to millions of Colombians who took to the streets in peaceful protest to say we are a united voice. That was our first confirmation that social media is a platform that can move masses with little investment.

How does the campaign work on these social networks?

We want everyone to feel free to use the campaign’s slogan “It’s Colombia, NOT Columbia” in any way they deem creatively appropriate. There’s been people that have written it on their hand and have posted pictures others have had their own t-shirts made or some have written it in the snow or sand in different places in the world. It’s Colombia speaking to the world, raising its voice to say “We want to show you all the good our country has to offer and we want to start by having you say our name correctly. (Check out some submissions above)

Obviously Columbia and Colombia are completely different things, but why does the misspelling bother Colombians so much?

More than it being a bother, it’s the fact that a name is a very important part of someone’s identity. If my name is Carlos and they call me something different repeatedly, I’m going to feel bad. We just want people to call us by our name, but the issue goes beyond the name, we want people to be interested in the positive things that are happening here.

With over 7,000 fans in less than a month (launched on February 7) what has been the most surprising aspect of people’s reactions?

The most surprising part is the organic expansion that it has had, because we haven’t promoted the campaign in the media or on TV. People identify with the message, it’s like “Hey I’ve always wanted to say it, to manifest that It’s Colombia NOT Columbia” and now they found a group of people that have done it.

There are some people who’d say that Colombia may not be the paradise that the campaign paints it out to be. For example, despite the current peace talks, violence still exists by the FARC and ELN rebel groups. So what exactly are the changes that you want the world to see in Colombia?

We want people to understand that Colombia is much more than what they see in the media. We want to balance out the message and tell the positive side. Today Colombia has a solid economy and investors are looking towards Latin America, especially Colombia because during the current global financial crisis Colombia has shown sustainable growth rates. I think Zemoga is an example of these changes, people think Colombia is a coffee exporter and it is but it also exports digital services to clients like Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Sea World.

[When Colombia is spelled with a U] people generally take it as disrespectful, personally I don’t think of it as a sign of disrespect but as a lack of knowledge. In 1988, for example, TIME magazine came out with an article headlined “Colombia The Most Dangerous City In The World” and they were referring to Medellín the city. It’s like they had so little interest in even saying the name correctly that they confused a city with a country. Ironically in 2012 Medellín was nominated as one of the three most innovative cities in the world along with New York and Tel Aviv. This is the type of drastic change that Colombia has seen. Medellín went from being a blacklisted city, with one of the highest indexes of crime in the world, to being one of the world’s most innovative cities.

So what is the campaign’s ultimate goal?

At Zemoga we want to continue using this new technology. Our objective is to show as a company that you can change the image of a country, or improve the image, through social media. And what’s happening to Colombia is not just happening here. There are many countries whose image abroad is incorrect or outdated so we want to set that example to say “Take these social networks and use them as peaceful weapons” with which we can change the world. That’s what we’re really looking for.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Colombia is the largest supplier of cocaine in the world. As of last year, Peru and Bolivia have both surpassed Colombia in cocaine production.

Before You Go

It's megadiverse
Colombia is one the few "megadiverse" countries in the world. It manages to house 10 percent of the world's biodiversity. And it ranks first in bird and orchid species diversity, and second in plants, butterflies, freshwater fishes and amphibians.

To put all of this in perspective, 68.7% of Colombia's surface is covered by natural ecosystems.
It's also racially diverse
Getty Images
Colombia is profoundly racially diverse, too. As of 2005, 10.4 percent of the country's population was Afro-Colombian and 3.4 percent was Amerindian, according to the CIA's World Fact Book.

Many of the country's afro communities reside along Colombia's coasts, near port cities that use to be hubs for slave trading in the Americas.
It has world-renowned emeralds
Colombia is known for exporting many things, but did you know the South American country is responsible for 60 percent of the world’s emeralds? That’s right, it’s likely that the green gem in your jewelry box originated from the emerald deposits of Muzo. Known for its deep green color and brilliance, Colombia’s emeralds are some of the most sought-after in the world.
It has (almost) every climate under the sun
Kike Calvo/Getty Images
While many know the country as a tropical paradise thanks to its location near the Equator, its rich ecosystems are possible due to its varied climate zones (rainforest, savanna, steppe, desert, mountain climate, etc.). Colombia’s temperatures vary based on elevations and rainfall.The country's capital, Bogotá, for example, is almost 9,000 feet above sea level and its average temperature is 57 °F.
It has the best coffee in the world
Getty Images
Ahh yes, if there’s one thing Colombia has always been synonymous with, it’s delicious freshly ground coffee. The “Eje Cafetero” (Colombian Coffee-Growers Axis), also known as the “Triángulo del Café”, located mainly within the Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío departments is home to what many consider the best coffee in the world.

Fun Fact: The figure of Juan Valdez that represents the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia is not based off a real person. The fictional poncho-wearing character widely referenced abroad (remember that scene from “Bruce Almighty”?) is simply used to represent Colombian coffee farmers.
It's home to the river that ran away from paradise
The world is full of amazing rivers and lakes, but how many are as colorful as Caño Cristales? It's commonly referred to as "the river that ran away to paradise." Why? Because from September to November, the water level dips, and the moss on top of rocks begins to change and bloom in a variety of beautiful colors.
Se habla español...y muy bien
While the Spanish language may have its roots in the motherland of Spain, Spanish is considered to be particularly well-spoken in Colombia.

In 2007, Víctor García de la Concha, the director of la Real Academia de la Lengua Español, the official royal institution overseeing the Spanish language praised the country's Spanish while speaking to Caracol Radio.
It's growing as a fashion hub
“La ciudad de la eterna primavera” (the city of the eternal Spring) says plenty about the beauty of Colombia’s second biggest city, Medellín. Once known as the home of the ruthless drug lord Pablo Escobar, its thriving textile industry has helped shed its past reputation and replace it with a growing fashion industry. Medellín hosts two important annual fashion-related events: Colombia Moda and Colombiatex.
It's a country that values rest
Only bested by Argentina, Colombia has the second highest number of national holidays in the world. With 18 public holidays and an average of 15 paid vacation days, it’s clear that this South American country values rest. In comparison, according to ABC, the U.S. only has 10 public holidays.

Most Colombians take advantage of the long weekends, also known as “puentes festivos,” to travel within the country with friends and family.
It prioritizes a healthy lifestyle
Since 1974, on Sundays and national holidays the country’s capital closes its usually congested main roads to give Bogotá’s residents a chance to walk, run, bike, skate and skip with its ciclovía. In other words, from 7 AM to 2 PM Colombian families and tourists can use the over 75 miles of asphalt as their playground.
It's filled with amazing food
Getty Images
All that Ajíaco, Sancocho, Bandeja Paisa, Mojarra might be the real reason Colombians need the ciclovías to exercise on the weekends. With delicious typical stews hailing from different corners of the country, Colombians hardly lack gastronomic splendor. For more delicious food reason, click here.
It's home to salsa Caleña
AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez
“¡Oiga, Mire, Vea....vengase a Cali para que vea!”

Colombia’s third most populous city, Cali, is sometimes called La Capital de la Salsa (World’s Salsa Capital). With significant differences from other styles of salsa, “Salsa Caleña” is known for its quick footwork with a mostly still upperbody. But Colombians do more than dance Salsa, the country is most well known for both its Cumbia and Vallenato genres.
It was Gabo's birthplace
Nobel Laureate and novelist Gabriel García Márquez was perhaps the most well-known figure in Colombian literature. Author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude" (1967) and "Love in the Time of Cholera" (1985), his works have not only been critically acclaimed but have made “Gabo” an icon within the Magic Realism genre.
It's where the legend of El Dorado originates
If you’ve ever heard of the Legend of El Dorado, then you know of Colombia’s pre-Columbine history. The original narrative told the story of the Muisca people who used gold not as a symbol of material wealth but as a sacred metal for religious offerings. The legend describes the famed El Dorado ceremony which welcomed the new cacique (chief). Covered in gold dust, the chief would travel atop a raft. Later he would dive into the lake with his offerings as bystanders cheered.

Bogotá’s International Airport “El Dorado” was named after the ceremony, and gold artifacts, like the Muisca Raft, can be found in the capital city’s Museo del Oro (Gold Museum).
La Selección Colombia is full of love and talent
Getty Images
Colombians rarely miss a chance to socialize over a good soccer match thanks to their common love of fútbol. Whether it’s celebrating a La Selección Colombia win or coming together after a defeat, Colombian wear their yellow, blue, and red with pride.

James Rodriguez and los Cafeteros showed the world their growing power and dance moves at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Rodriguez took home the Golden Boot for most goals scored in the tournament and also won Best Goal of the Tournament.
It's given the world beloved megastars
Getty Images
Despite all of the country’s qualities perhaps what shines the brightest internationally are its stars. The country has produced everyone from the charitable Juanes and Shakira to the hilariously sexy Sofía Vergara. And don't forget about the musically talented Fonseca, Carlos Vives, J Balvín and Maluma. There's no shortage of stars in Colombia.
It's made the art world fall in love with the chubby
Getty Images
For all those chubby-loving art fiends, Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s work is nothing short of innovative. His figurative style “Boterismo” is characterized by portraying subjects in exaggerated volumes. His works are known to depict chubby women, men, children, animals, and even still-life in daily life with a sense of humor. Botero has also taken classics, like Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and given them his own unique touch.
It has more festivals than you know what do with
It's not enough to have astonishing biodiversity and ethnic diversity, you need to celebrate it. Colombia has the world's biggest theater festival (Festival Iberoamericano), salsa festival and flower parade. It also has the second biggest carnival in the world!
It's made a hell of a comeback
Getty Images
TIME magazine said it best when they featured the Colombian president on the cover of their international edition in April 2012, and praised the country as thus: "From nearly failed state to emerging global player -- in less than a decade."

Colombia's economy has been growing over the years and despite some setbacks, the country currently has one of Latin America's most stable economies.

Popular in the Community


What's Hot