Could Corona Beer be looking at an insurmountable brand problem?

by | Apr 2, 2020 | Analysis, Covid-19, Public Relations

About 10 years ago a woman I met at a business grand opening handed me her business card. She was an event planner, and her company name included the word Isis. Clearly, the name alluded to the Egyptian goddess of life, but more recently had taken on dark connotations.

“You might want to rethink the company name,” I suggested. To which she replied that she was already planning her re-brand.

By no fault of her own, or the no-doubt many others whose companies were named Isis, the word had become toxic, known by most as the ruthless terrorist group waging jihad against infidels, killing innocents, and decapitating people on video. Isis was still a storied Egyptian goddess, but people’s minds could no longer go there first.

Corona Beer may be on the verge of a similar brand crisis

Sure, we’ve chuckled at stories—hopefully apocryphal—of some people disavowing the lime twist-infused lager in the wake of COVID-19 because they think drinking the beer somehow causes the illness. There have been lots of memes to that effect, and they’ve served the purpose of giving us something to laugh at during these difficult times.

But if, God forbid, six months or a year from now Coronavirus has claimed thousands or even tens of thousands of lives here, and hundreds of thousands or millions of lives worldwide, how would our thinking about the word change? When almost everyone knew or loved someone who died from COVID-19, how likely would we be to reach for a cold one named Corona?

Corona beer bottles and coronavirus

Source: Times of India

It’s terrible to contemplate such a future, but it’s not a great leap to think the brand name could become nearly as toxic as Isis—a reminder not of fun times with friends on the beach or toasting the sunset, but of a time when we all had to shelter in place and watch friends and relatives perish. We all understand the name is nothing but a coincidence, the brand a hapless victim of a world pandemic.

The beer’s parent company, AB InBev (once known as Anheuser-Busch), experienced a precipitous decline in its stock beginning March 6, and has been climbing back up with only moderate losses in the past three weeks. That could be due more to the virus-related decline in the market overall and the loss of sales due to the shutdown of restaurants and bars worldwide than anything to do with the name of a single brand.

For its part, Corona has remained mostly silent as it observes the media maelstrom surrounding it, much of it tongue-in-cheek, and this seems wise. It would be academic to say drinking Corona does not give you Corona, as 99.99 percent of the population knows that. Nor would any brand want to playfully poke fun or wink at what others are saying online during such a serious time.

Nonetheless, if the virus persists for the long term, if the mortality rate dramatically rises, it’s difficult to imagine the name Corona coming out unscathed on the other side.

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Gary Frisch
Gary Frisch is founder and president of Swordfish Communications, a full-service public relations agency in Laurel Springs, N.J.

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