This not a premiere in brand history. Many companies in the past have been unwillingly associated to major catastrophes or criminal organisations just because they share the same name.
Take for example the Isis Wallet, the mobile payment technology set up by AT&T, T Mobile, and Verizon. Due to the rising of the terrorist group in 2014 they had to rename the service “Softcard” in order to avoid a PR nightmare.
There is also this 35 year old, Arizona based company producing connectivity products and named … Covid (http://www.covid.com/). It’s CEO doesn’t plan to change the brand thinking his customers are smart enough to not be confused.
Is “Doing nothing” a possible strategy?
It all depends of the company reputation extent. For the Arizonian firm, it might play out in time since it is not a world wide known brand. But, attracting new customers (during an European trade show for example) may turn out to be more challenging than before. It will certainly require extra efforts to wind down the inevitable unconscious reluctance the name Covid might trigger.
In the Corona Beer case, doing nothing was not an option since the brand association went viral (if I may say). Memes started proliferating on all social medias (another kind of pandemic) but as if it was not enough an extremely unscientific survey was released from a PR firm claiming that 38% of Americans wouldn’t buy Corona beer.
A rational response against an irrational fear
Constellation Brands, maker of Corona Beer, had to step in to debunk all gossips around allegedly business erosion. They issued a statement claiming that Corona Extra sales grew 5% in the U.S … nearly doubling the 52-week trend for the brand”. I must say journalists were not particularly impartial as only very few medias underlined the fact that all soda and beer manufacturers are facing a sales slump (especially in China) due to the closing of all bars and restaurants during the pandemic lock down period.
But meanwhile, Google queries on “Corona beer virus” and “Beer Virus” went up 600% during this past month*.
Opportunity in Adversity?
A funny demonstration of what Corona could face trying to formerly educate the above Googlers is given by Conan O’Brien on TBS.
I am sure Bill Newlands (Constellation Brands President) would dream to address those scepticals this very same way but it would be quite politically incorrect.
Instead the Corona Beer team decided to use humour, the best weapon against stupidity. They issue the following post on Twitter reminding what are the Corona Beer symptoms.
Could they do more? Constellation Brands is already using all the classical marketing techniques to limit the damages. But one could think they could go a little bit further and pick marketing specialists brain by launching an international slogan contest for example. They could reward the 10 best catchlines, offering golden beer cags during a great ceremony. They could also make a large donation to the scientist community to rename the virus. Some already say that the company had offered $10 Million to the scientist community to Change the Name “Coronavirus” to “Literally Anything Else”, but beware … this is an hoax.
Could a company prevent such a crisis?
In communication it’s always difficult to predict from which side the danger will come from. Nevertheless companies ought to put in place the processes that will allow them to respond efficiently:
Keep monitoring your market with an adapted business intelligence program.
Make sure your company values are clearly stated and your editorial line explicitly defined as you will need both of them to guideline your crisis communication.
Immediately respond to any fake new using appropriate channels. You should have a clear policy of what content should be communicated and where.
Appoint a Crisis Team in advance with clear role defined for each member. The list of these collaborators with their contact info should be available to everyone in the company.
Take care of your network as you will need all your collaborators, partners and influencers voices to back you up during the crisis.
Should you need guidance in how to build your own crisis communication processes, let’s meet and talk about it over a coffee!