A lot of brands needed to make some adjustments while the world was transforming in 2020. Consumer behaviors changed, restaurants closed, and confusion guided our behaviors. In the middle of the hysteria and misinformation was the brand Corona, known for their Mexican lagers.
I don’t think I need to explain why 2020 was a really bad time to have the name “Corona.” Naturally, there was some fear for the brand who would be impacted by consumer’s illogical responses. Early into the pandemic, a reported 38% of people surveyed said they would avoid Corona because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Fortunately, Corona ended the year just fine. Despite a small dip in the first half the year, the second half saw sales rise 13%. This means Corona actually did better than most companies did in 2020.
Surviving this type of misfortune requires a strong sense of brand identity. Anheuser-Busch InBev has built thin with their Corona brand, but there wasn’t luck involved. Years of marketing and product development have given the brand a strong identity that can survive a major unexpected challenge.
Building the Corona Brand
In case anyone needed clarification, the word “corona” is Latin for crown. The virus gets its name because it has a crown-like appearance at a microscopic level. The beer uses Grupo Modelothe name “Corona” to honor Puerto Vallarta where there is a recognizable crown on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The beer and the virus have an etymological relationship, nothing more.
Being a Mexican lager, the Corona brand pays homage to its native Mexico. This can be seen in their advertising, as the brand often shows people drinking the beer while relaxing on the beach. Many people, particularly the American audience, will associate Mexico as a tourism destination. When they think of Mexican vacation, they want to be relaxing and enjoying the sunshine. Corona fits into that picture.
Corona has decades of advertisements linking them to laid-back atmospheres and sandy beaches. Perhaps this is best demonstrated by their “Feliz Navidad” Christmas commercial where a palm tree is decorated with Christmas lights. This commercial has been airing for nearly three-decades, demonstrating a level of consistency and a commitment to their style of branding.
When consumers have a Corona, they should be searching for one of two things. The drink is often paired with a wedge of lime, so much so that some people refuse to drink it without the lime. The other option would be to “find your beach” as many advertisements would suggest. Grabbing a mask and quarantining? Not part of the branding.
Corona: Surviving a Marketing Disaster
In April of 2020, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced they would need to suspend production at Grupo Modelo. If anyone held any anxieties surrounding the Corona beer, this certainly wasn’t going to help. If you click past the headlines, the story would actually highlight the authenticity of the company. There was no inherent danger associated with the Corona brand, which is brewed in the Grupo Modelo brewery. Rather, they couldn’t produce beer in Mexico because they were deemed a non-essential business. If you need any reassurance that Corona was truly Mexican, this was it.
Despite the swirl of misinformation, Corona didn’t give any validity to the claims. In fact, their efforts reflected the branding that had always existed: beaches, limes, and relaxation.
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen Corona release an advertisement with Snoop Dogg, Zoe Saldana, and Bad Bunnie. The commercial features the celebrities calling each other, yelling their names, and living the “fine life.” This La Vida Más Fina campaign was actually filmed prior to the pandemic, though it looks as if it could have been filming during this time. All actors are on separate beaches and there’s no direct contact.
Travel was limited during the pandemic, and people couldn’t really go to bars. For most people life was lived within their household and it was difficult to embrace the lifestyle marketed in Corona’s ads. Still, the brand wants to give consumers that feeling in a bottle. They don’t want to associate themselves with the confusion and seriousness of the pandemic. Fortunately, they had the right advertisement filmed in the right location to remind people of the Corona lifestyle.
It seems obvious there would be pressures to address their “relationship” to the pandemic, but they didn’t. They kept their ads lighthearted and trusted their consumers were intelligent enough to know their beer wasn’t the cause of the pandemic.
Did COVID Help Corona?
Looking at the initial responses from consumers, it’s clear some people had a negative correlation between Corona beer and coronavirus. While 38% of people said they were avoiding the beer at the start of the pandemic, only 4% of regular Corona consumers said they would refrain from buying it. While this is much less impactful, 4% is still serious money.
These surveys were also administered at the start of the pandemic. This means Corona was getting caught in the whirlwind of news emerging in 2020. The word “corona” was everywhere, and prior to 2020 most people only knew the word as a proper noun. When they went shopping, they were aware of Corona once again. Perhaps, all of this corona discussion put the beer back on people’s minds.
Indirectly, the news from the pandemic could have been helping to build brand salience for Corona. This is a phenomenon that occurs when consumers think of a brand, particularly one they have prior experiences with. If a consumer has high salience for Corona, it will be the first brand the comes to mind when they think “beer.”
As people sat inside during COVID, they started to dream of days on the beach in the sunshine. What goes well with that? Corona. When they go to the grocery store, they might see a lime. What goes well with that? Corona.
During a time when many brands did suffer, Corona ultimately did not. Their sales were stable, even growing in UK markets. According to Google trends, searches for Corona beer were surging during the start of the pandemic. By most accounts, sharing a name with coronavirus helped to bring more attention to the brand, and simple research could debunk any fears.
Did Corona Take the Right Approach?
If you turn on the TV, you’re going to see many commercials addressing the pandemic. Terms like “new normal” and “hard times” are all over the media, and we all know what they’re referencing. This vocabulary is absent from Corona’s advertising. They’re basically acting as if nothing has changed.
Looking at the numbers, it’s hard to deny they did something right. However, they didn’t use the virus to help their sales. Rather, the similarities in name brought attention to a strong brand identity that already existed.
Years of embracing their Mexican roots and easy-going nature have built a strong fanbase. These people knew the misinformation about Corona was absurd, and they never abandoned their favorite drink. Meanwhile, other people found themselves with the word “corona” on their mind. This translated into thoughts of sandy beaches and relaxation. This is the brand Corona has always been, and they remained the same when we needed them most.