I’m all for transparency and openness, but sometimes there’s nothing left to say.

Corona beer has had a tough few months. The pale, hoppy beer shares nothing with Coronavirus apart from a name, yet it has been mercilessly trolled on social media.

“You’re the reason everyone’s dying!” posted someone yesterday underneath a pretty image of a waterfall on Corona’s Instagram account.

Doctored images of Corona beer bottles started becoming a social media meme in February, soon after the identically named Coronavirus had been declared a global heath emergency by the World Health Organisation.

What’s in a name

“Corona” means crown in Spanish and was the name the brewery chose when they first started making the light yellow lager in Mexico City in the 1920s. Unfortunately “corona” was also the name given to a new kind of pathogen discovered in the 1960s. Under a microscope, scientists could see that individual cells were surrounded by a halo of petal shapes. The current Covid-19 pandemic is caused by one of these corona-shaped viruses.

It’s hard to know if or how Corona beer will recover from this negative association. A survey from YouGov at the end of February found that purchase intent for Corona beer was at its lowest level for two years.

Some marketers are bullish: Coronavirus won’t hurt Corona, it will actually boost sales writes brand consultant Mark Ritson. But marketing history doesn’t bode well. Fast Magazine reports how diet chocolate Ayds flopped after a similar experience in the 1980s, despite a re-brand.

Corona beer is relatively low alcohol and best drunk on the beach. It’s always been a youth-orientated brand. And I’m not sure if a generation of teenagers who have had months if not years of their lives altered through lockdown will want to start buying it.

Don’t feed the trolls

Corona’s global social media team last posted to its Twitter account on 13 March. For other social media channels it was even earlier. Social media has only continued in the US, where new $40 million campaign to launch a Corona-branded seltzer was scheduled to kicked off in late February. Despite the unfortunate tagline, “coming ashore soon”, Corona’s owner, Grupo Modelo decided not to postpone the launch.

“You do realise your product has become a meme for the greatest virus of our time. And you’ve reacted to it, how exactly? Would be smarter for your company to address this. Turn it to your advantage.” writes one fan on Corona’s Facebook page.

But Corona is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. Its brand image is all sun, surfing and palm trees. People associate drinking Corona with relaxation and escapism. It can’t start apologising for a global pandemic. “Don’t feed the trolls” is a popular saying in social media. And Corona is doing well by staying schtum. It can’t win this battle.

Feel the love

Apart from Huawei, Corona is the most valuable global brand that is not from the developed world, according to Interbrand (and as reported in the Economist). Its success story is a combination of a perfectly okay product with good timing and savvy marketing.

I love Corona beer. It’s the only Mexican import to make a mark globally. I want to support it. I like it’s palm-fringed marketing campaigns. And I like its commitment to reducing waste plastic. I hope it survives. But I think a name change is inevitable.

Photo: Mike Bitzenhofer

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