Lessons around managing negative publicity and marketing 101
There is no doubt that the pandemic had major effects across the world in a variety of industries. Travel, aviation, and retail were hit especially hard with companies going bankrupt or cutting staff in order to save on costs.
There is, however, one brand that appeared to take the brunt of the damage early, especially with the fact that it had a false association with the coronavirus.
This was the well-known brand of beer called Corona. According to the graph below, the Corona beer actually received a lot of negative buzz early on in 2020 when the coronavirus started spreading worldwide.
According to a survey done in February 2020, it revealed 38% of Americans wouldn’t buy the brand because it contained part of the coronavirus word. According to trends, there was even a spike in internet searches for the term “corona beer virus.”
Corona Still Managed To Generate Strong Sales Growth in 2020–2021
Even with the negative associations, Corona generated strong sales. In the UK alone, the sales of beer went up by 40%, making it one of the fastest-growing alcohol products.
By late 2020, its sales were actually up 17% worldwide, and was crowned the №1 beer brand in the world by the 2020 Brand Finances Beer 50 list. It managed to defy the odds of being negatively impacted by the coronavirus and reversed the effect by increasing its sales and generating a positive impact on its growth.
What most people thought would be a massive blow to the beer brand ended up doing the exact opposite.
So what did it do that was smart to help weather the storm?
Managing Brand Publicity 101
According to MSA IP, there are three ways of managing negative publicity:
- Completely re-brand your product e.g., changing your brand name.
- Confront the issue head-on.
- Lay low until the storm passes.
Taking a look at previous negative publicity examples concerning virus-related concepts, Ayds, a diet candy in the 30s to 80s, would suffer heavily due to the negative correlation it had with AIDS.
Early on, the candy bar actually had an increase in sales to the point that an executive at the manufacturer said:
“The product has been around for 45 years. Let the disease change its name.”
However, eventually, it got so bad that they were forced to rebrand their name to “Diet Ayds,” which still did nothing for the brand, and eventually, the candy bar was discontinued.
What Did Corona Do?
To re-brand would be a drastic measure, and Corona was a brand beer that didn’t confront humanity and sustainability issues head-on. Unlike other companies like Dove and Patagonia, Corona was not known as a brand to take on these topics.
To do so would be off-brand and out of place, so Corona did the best thing it could — it did nothing.
Even though it released a fairly poor-tasting ad early in 2020, it still stuck to its marketing guns and released ads in accordance with what it’s known for, beach-loving beer drinkers and, of course, sports fanatics.
It even signed up Snoop Dogg to a campaign called “La Vida Más Fina,” which translates to “The Fine Life.” The campaign focused on the good things in life with positive imagery around the beach.
It managed to turn the negative publicity into positive publicity and the pandemic most likely actually gave Corona free marketing and searches. They would never, of course, openly acknowledge this as this would cause a ton of backlash. Instead, it continued to advertise as it would normally do and laid low to pass the storm.
In a sense, they realized that by doing nothing, they ensured their brand was resilient and didn’t play into any potential issues or backlash.
Brands Are Resistant When Built Well, and Corona Knew This
With Corona, it's marketing usually focuses on rich and colorful ads that bring about a cool and chill vibe. Think about the last Corona ad, and it would most likely have been something light to digest.
Hence, it just needed to pursue this image to overcast the negative associations it could possibly have with the coronavirus.
Apart from a statement by a spokesperson in which the company expressed its empathy with those suffering from COVID-19, it never gave anyone ammunition to link the brand to the virus apart from mentioning that there was no connection between the two.
“The simple truth is that when most people think of Corona beer, they have a mental image, not of today’s coronavirus with its crown shaped spikes, but of drinking an ice-cold amber beer from a distinctive clear bottle with blue and white branding. “— Fiona Florence at Brand Design Agency JDO
Corona showed the world how a brilliant branding marketing strategy looks like to avert potential disaster. Sometimes something so simple as doing nothing and sticking to your original plan can save your company from disaster and bankruptcy, especially in a dilemma as rare as being associated with a virus.
In my opinion, Corona gave a great master class of how important managing publicity can be in a time where companies can be scrutinized so heavily.