Corona beer draws scrutiny on social media for ‘coming ashore’ language amid coronavirus outbreak
Corona beer is taking some heat on social media for a tweet plugging its new seltzer as “coming ashore soon.” The tweet, published on Monday, has drawn multiple critical replies with people questioning the language choice as fears rise about the spread of coronavirus.
The beer brand obviously has nothing to do with the virus and it seems ridiculous that any consumers would make that connection. But the fact that the brand name shares the same moniker as the virus has led to some marketing complications for the beer, evidenced by the social media reaction. “Kinda bad timing for this ad?” tweeted one person, while another person declared Corona’s tweet as in “extremely poor taste.” But other people came to Corona's defense, including one person who tweeted back at a critic that “you may have read WAY too much into this ad.”
Asked to comment on the tweet, a Corona spokeswoman in a statement to Ad Age said, “our advertising with Corona is consistent with the campaign we have been running for the last 30 years and is based off strong consumer sentiment,” referring to the brand’s long-running tactic of using beach imagery. “While we empathize with those who have been impacted by this virus and continue to monitor the situation, our consumers, by and large, understand there’s no linkage between the virus and our business.”
Still, the situation adds a piece of complexity that other beer brands in the fiercely competitive category won’t have to confront.
On Thursday, independent PR agency 5W Public Relations released findings of a survey that showed mixed results on the impact to Corona. Only 4 percent of regular Corona drinkers said they would stop drinking the brand, but 14 percent said they would not order it in a public venue, according to the survey, which polled 737 American beer drinkers on Tuesday and Wednesday. The survey also found that “16 percent of beer drinking Americans were confused about whether Corona beer is related to the coronavirus.”
The agency also cited findings from the YouGov BrandIndex, which measures consumer perception. According to 5WPR, Corona’s “net score”—which rates whether consumers have heard anything positive or negative about the brand—has fallen from a high score of 75 at the beginning of January to 51 as of late February.
5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian in a press release announcing the survey results stated: “There is no question that Corona beer is suffering because of the coronavirus. Could one imagine walking into a bar and saying ‘Hey, can I have a Corona?’ or ‘Pass me a Corona.’ While the brand has claimed that consumers understand there's no linkage between the virus and the beer company, this is a disaster for the Corona brand. After all, what brand wants to be linked to a virus which is killing people worldwide?”
5WPR does not have any national beer brands but does work for craft brewer Two Roots Brewing, which has sales in California.
In response to the survey, the Corona spokeswoman stated: “There’s a lot of misinformation being shared across the media that doesn’t match consumer behavior. Corona sales continue to be strong.”
Corona’s seltzer line extension is a major business priority for Corona’s U.S. owner, Constellation Brands, as it seeks to gain ground in the hot-selling hard seltzer segment dominated by White Claw and Truly, owned by Mark Anthony Brands and Boston Beer Co., respectively.
The Corona Seltzer campaign, which is by Cramer-Krasselt, includes a TV ad that recently began running. The spot does not use the “coming ashore” language but shows cases of the new seltzer being ferried in from the sea. The campaign continues Corona’s long-running “Find Your Beach” tagline.
Outside of the U.S., Corona is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. During an earnings call on Thursday executives did not address any branding concerns, but outlined the negative impact the virus is having on its larger beer business in China. “The outbreak has led to a significant decline in demand in China in both on-premise and in-home channels,” AB InBev stated in its fourth quarter earnings report, which referred to the virus by its technical name of COVID-19. The outbreak led to lost revenue of $285 million in the first two months of 2020, the brewer reported.
Corona’s U.S. seltzer campaign comes as competition intensifies in the relatively new segment. Molson Coors Beverage Co. this week announced it would launch a seltzer under its Coors brand that is expected to hit stores in July. The brewer in March will debut another hard seltzer brand called Vizzy. AB InBev meanwhile, is pouring significant marketing behind its new Bud Light Seltzer.