What exactly should you do when your brand name is suddenly a homonym of a dangerous virus?

12 March 2020. 14:25. Twitter. On The Coronas page:

“Hey @corona beer! So what’s your plan? Asking for a friend.”

A witty tweet that generated a whole lot of likes and retweets for the band. Looking back, the question was quite relevant, because what exactly should you do when your b(r)and name (see what I did there?) is suddenly a homonym of a dangerous virus that has taken over the news everywhere around the globe?

@Neil_omgtv suggested a possible strategy on Twitter:

“[…] I would embrace the situation. Put out an ad saying ‘seeing as you’ve all decided to stop drinking our beer, we’ve decided to change its name to Vaccine.’ And then I’d roll out renamed limited edition bottles like Coke does.”

That would be a way to handle the whole corona situation (though not really an option for The Coronas since The Vaccines already exist), but it is yet to be determined whether it is the right way. Is there any marketing strategy at all that could help the beer brand overcome COVID-19’s effects?

#corona: from ‘paradise’ to pandemic

Let’s look back at the development of #corona, shall we? A few months back, everything seemed to be running smoothly. Even the@corona Twitter page was doing just fine. But then there it was: a new virus in Wuhan. While this was nothing more than an unfamiliar and nameless threat at the time, it was soon given the name COVID-19, an abbreviation of coronavirus disease 2019. Once the world found out that COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, one of the corona viruses, the first instances of the use of #corona appeared in social media posts. Many of these posts were made with humorous intentions (just google corona memes if you want to know exactly what I mean).

However, when the number of victims suddenly started rising with an alarming pace, the initial humour was soon swapped out for concerns. Corona, the brand name that always made you think of sun, fun, and good times with friends (or, as can still be read on the @corona Twitter page: ‘Paradise, best served with a lime’) was suddenly being linked to a life-threatening pandemic.

Not great.

Despite the fact that they had absolutely nothing to do with the virus, the link between the two was easily formed in the minds of many consumers. The sad thing about it is that AB InBev, the brewery that owns Corona as well as a whole range of other beer brands, can’t really do anything about it. It’s just bad luck. An additional downside is that as long as COVID-19 is on the front page of every newspaper, they must be extra careful about launching a new ad campaign or posting on social media.

The same goes for the aforementioned band The Coronas. In an article on The Guardian’s website, Danny O’Reilly, the band’s lead singer, mentions how difficult it was to respond to all of the messages he received through WhatsApp and other social media:

“We’d normally want to poke fun at ourselves but because it was such a developing, serious issue we couldn’t really mention it.”

COVID-19’s impact on AB InBev

However, besides the fuss on social media and the problems #corona brought for the band as well as the beer brand, I’d like to revisit the subject of the beer brewery, AB InBev. Whether it’s the result of the negative attention around COVID-19 or because of the fact that less beer is being consumed in pubs (something about a lockdown …), the fact is that the company’s revenue and total volumes have decreased dramatically in the first quarter of 2020. The press release AB InBev published on 7 May 2020 states that their revenue decreased by 5,8 percent and the total volumes decreased by 9,3 percent. That’s not what you want as a company. Moreover, the company expects that COVID-19’s impact on the results in the second quarter will be even more significant than on the first quarter.

Irrespective of the financial damage that COVID-19 has caused, the virus has undoubtedly also had far-ranging consequences for the beer brand’s SEO results. If you look up #corona in Twitter or Instagram, pretty much all you see are posts about the virus and barely any posts relating to the beer brand (unless you’re counting those memes I mentioned earlier). The same goes for online search engine results.

Let’s just hope there won’t be some kind of mutation of the virus that is given the name Ludejo. What would you do if you were in AB InBev’s shoes?