How Corona built brand equity in spite of the pandemic
Brands can generate love and loyalty, even in a crisis, through building equities and visual triggers, as Corona has unexpectedly discovered.
Corona beer was always going to be an easy target. And irrespective of whether the talk about consumers shunning the brand is fact or fiction, you can imagine a room of marketers at its HQ scratching their heads and thinking: “Of all the virus names you could have chosen – you chose Corona.”
So, let’s get straight to the point: as a marketer, how would you play it if you were the brand manager of Corona beer? It’s not an easy situation when the brand you manage shares the same name as a global pandemic that has the world in its grip?
Defending a beleaguered name
To date, Corona marketers have held their nerve, debunking the urban myths and defending their beleaguered brand name with substantiated stats from the get go. Constellation Brands, which owns the US rights to the brand, said at the end of February: “With Corona Extra sales up 5% per the latest four-week period, our beer business continues its strong performance despite unfounded claims about the impact of Covid-19 on the business and consumer sentiment.”
By countering rumours with the persuasive power of numbers, they’ve managed to shut down the gossip and carried on regardless. But in all honesty, they have good reason to be worried – Google has reported a global increase in ‘Corona beer virus’ searches.
It’s not the first homonym involving a disease and a brand. According to The New York Times, during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, sales of the diet candy Ayds dropped approximately 50% and the brand finally went out of business.
At that time, the Ayds marketing team also held their nerve. After all, to change your brand name because of a new virus would have felt like a knee-jerk reaction. Surely a brand that had been around almost 50 years would prevail over a temporary pandemic? So, where did Ayds go wrong?
Fundamentally, the reasons were twofold. The first lay in the fact that the product benefit of Ayds was rapid weight loss, which unfortunately was the public’s growing understanding of the AIDS virus victims’ symptoms.
The other problem was the Ayds brand image. Despite it being in market since the 1930s, there was no established and familiar look and feel, and no consistent or compelling visual expression. It had no long-standing equities to trigger an emotional response and gain affinity over the years.
Its brand image often changed radically, so it lacked the requisite resonance and relevance for its audience. And there was no consistent golden thread to hark back to its roots and history, to land much needed credibility and heritage – critical for all brands, but never more so than for a diet candy brand essentially selling hope.
Every famous brand usually has something distinctive that can trigger a powerful emotion – it’s the key to unlocking belief. Bringing what makes it unique and famous to life through image, shape and colour can serve as shortcuts to convey a brand’s values or tell its story. And people are emotionally connected with and invested in a brand’s visual expression.
For Constellation Brands, it is thankfully a different story. The Mexican beer brand was introduced to the world in 1925 and by the mid-1990s, Corona emerged as the top-selling import beer in the United States, a position it still holds up to the present. And since its inception, Corona has created a consistent and emotionally engaging brand image.
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. They see the calligraphy font of Corona’s brand marque and of course the emblematic golden crown (‘crown’ is ‘corona’ in Spanish). Even the ritual of squeezing a wedge of lime into the bottle’s iconic long neck is legendary and reinforces our emotional connection.
The importance of being earnest
As a marketer, you understand the power of creativity to fundamentally change how people think, feel and believe. As much as we want to pride ourselves on being rational beings, it is our emotions that truly drive our behaviours. When it comes to choosing one brand over the next, our rational mind takes a back seat as our emotions shift into a higher gear.
Confident brands use image, shape and colour to embed emotion into their visual equities because they understand that when a brand evokes emotion, consumers connect with it. Because ultimately, the brand becomes so much more than just its name – hopefully allowing it to withstand sharing that name with a global pandemic.
Once that visual expression is established and familiar, consumers trust what they see more than what they read. It’s powerful and effective and can generate a love and a loyalty beyond reason. And loyalty beyond reason is crucial in any kind of branding PR crisis.
Today, there is a growing sense of solidarity as we stand together to fight coronavirus. There is a sense that we’re all in this together. Latest Nielsen stats show sales are up 39% now for Constellation Brands, led by the Corona family, up a staggering 50%.
Corona beer is proving a popular choice for Zoom happy hours – disaster averted.
Fiona Florence is managing director of brand design agency JDO.