Corona, Guilty by Association

Mar 10, 2020

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

-Warren Buffett


In a perfect world, the health of a brand has no business being in the same conversation as the health of individuals. But, because of the coronavirus and the similarities the potentially pandemic virus’s name has with the alcoholic beverage Corona, here we are.

Recently, a poll conducted by 5W Public Relations revealed that 38% of American beer drinkers said they wouldn’t buy Corona “under any circumstances” at this point in time, with 16% of the drinkers confused about whether Corona beer is related to the coronavirus. It matters little how irrational the association between a virus that can only be spread person-to-person and the name of a Mexican pale lager is—as per usual, the consumer is always right. And, in times of panic and helplessness, consumers will cling to any shred of prudency, even if it’s outrightly ridiculous.

For its part, Corona is dismissing reports that sales of its beverages are down; in fact, Constellation Brands—makers of Corona—claim sales of its Corona Extra were up 5% in the U.S. for a four-week period ending February 16—nearly twice the yearly trend for the brand. Even if accurate, those numbers don’t consider the last several weeks, which have seen a proliferation of diagnoses and deaths related to coronavirus in the U.S., as well as increased media coverage.

When news of the 5W Public Relations poll and reported sales drop broke, it compelled a Constellation spokesperson to tell CNN Business that “sales of Corona remain very strong and we appreciate the continued support from our fans.”

There is something that can be learned from how Corona has handled a situation with little precedent. Mostly, the brand has kept mum, perhaps fearing if they said something they’d be perceived as callous, as thousands die worldwide, but if they say nothing they might be perceived as callous, too. Recently, the CEO of Constellation Brands said in a statement that “our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this terrible virus and we hope efforts to more fully contain it gain traction soon,” without acknowledging the guilt by name-association.

On Twitter, Corona is mostly quiet, but has been even prior to the coronavirus outbreak. On Instagram, the brand is much more active, but virtually all of its posts are of Millennials living it up in tropical paradises without a Corona in sight. Many of the comments, however, are less benign. One Instagram comment read simply, “stop with killing people” and received numerous likes. Further, a response to a rare tweet on the Corona USA account was a Corona meme that featured a Corona emblazoned Volkswagen Beetle with the copy: “That awkward moment when you come face-to-face with the Corona bug.”

How brands should act in these situations is unclear and vetting your brand’s emergency response plan in the marketplace of your actual customers, at the moment of crisis, is a risky strategy. Should your brand find themselves face-to-face with a crisis of unintentional, adverse viral marketing, Marketing Workshop can expertly and quickly assist in identifying an optimal response strategy through validated consumer research methodologies.

~ Marketing Workshop