Is Corona Beer Facing a Brand Crisis Because of Coronavirus?

The pale lager from Mexico is not having a great start to 2020

Consumer searches for both the virus and beer spiked recently. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: Constellation Brands
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Key insights:

We may never know the true intent behind consumer searches like “corona beer virus,” but data from multiple platforms shows an increase in this and related terms since the World Health Organization first began tracking coronavirus cases in China on Dec. 31.

Google Trends, for example, shows a spike in searches for “beer virus” and “corona beer virus” between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1.

In its own keyword analysis, online visibility management platform SEMrush found three new terms in January 2020: “corona beer virus” was used in search 49,500 times; “corona virus beer” was used 22,200 times; and “beer coronavirus” was used 390 times.

But SEMrush also saw a big boost for the brand term “corona beer,” which went from 49,500 searches in December 2019 to 201,000 searches in January 2020. That’s more than 406% growth.

An SEMrush spokesperson described the correlation as “very strong,” and said that one “very strange reason” behind increased interest in Corona beer “could definitely be” coronavirus.

“There has never been such a huge spike in searches for Corona beer in the past four years as it happened in January 2020,” she added.

Meanwhile, consumer intelligence company Brandwatch found more than 7,500 mentions of “corona beer virus” online since Jan. 1, along with 1,000 mentions of “beer coronavirus.”

“Corona beer virus” peaked on Jan. 30 with 2,300 mentions that day, per Brandwatch data.

“Interestingly enough, the massive spike on Jan. 30 of ‘corona beer virus’ was actually driven by the media, as news outlets reported on the increase in search results for the term,” said Kellan Terry, senior manager of communications at Brandwatch. “I think searches for terms like ‘corona beer virus’ are a mixture of people who truly have no idea what’s going on, and a good number of people looking to find and/or create a meme.”

Brandwatch said the hashtag #CoronaBeerVirus has over 1.5 million impressions since the beginning of the year. That’s at least in part because of all the memes that have popped up, which Terry said emerged because the beer has strong brand recognition—but also because younger generations tend to laugh at what they consider to be dystopian events as a coping mechanism online.

“People are trying to find the humor in this entire situation, as the laughing emoji is the most-used alongside these terms,” he added.

The beer brand did not respond to a request for comment. It did, however, launch a new hard seltzer earlier this week with the tagline “Coming ashore,” which was met with swift online criticism.

There is, of course, no connection between the beer and the disease, which was officially named the novel coronavirus, or Covid-19, on Feb. 11.

This is also not the first strain of coronavirus. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s and are named after the “crown-like spikes on their surface.”

While it’s unclear why the beer company opted for the name “Corona,” it means “crown” in Spanish, and a crown symbol appears on labels and packaging for its brands Corona Extra, Corona Light, Corona Premier, Corona Familiar and Corona Refresca. Corona Extra, which has been brewed in Mexico since 1925, first hit U.S. shelves in 1981, and the brand claims it’s the top-selling imported beer and No. 5 beer overall in the U.S. (Although currently, market research firm YouGov found purchase intent for Corona is at its lowest level in two years.)

What’s more, PR firm 5W Public Relations surveyed 737 U.S. beer drinkers and found that 38% of beer-drinking consumers would not buy Corona under any circumstances now—and 16% were confused about whether the beer is connected to the outbreak.

And while only 4% of Corona drinkers said they would stop drinking it now, 14% said they wouldn’t order Corona in public.

“There is no question that Corona beer is suffering because of the coronavirus,” said 5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian in a statement.

Corona’s owner, Constellation Brands, however, says that’s not the case. “[O]ur business continues to perform very well,” said Bill Newlands, president and CEO of Constellation Brands, in a statement late Friday calling the survey “extremely unfortunate” and “misinformation.”

“These claims simply do not reflect our business performance and consumer sentiment, which includes feedback from our distributor and retailer partners across the country,” Newlands said.

Online reputation expert Andy Beal agrees, saying the outbreak is not a threat to the beer brand and that it’s more likely consumers are simply confused.

“The real threat would come if Corona were to dive in and capitalize on this by running some crass social media post,” he added. “The virus is serious, so they should not make light of it.”

This story has been updated with a statement from Constellation Brands’ president and CEO.

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@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.