Beer brand Corona has emphasised that coronavirus has not damaged its image, despite a survey from 5W Public Relations that found the opposite receiving widespread media coverage.
5W's study found that 38% of beer-drinking Americans would not buy Corona under any circumstances due to coronavirus fears.
Maggie Bowman, senior director of communications for the beer division of Constellation Brands, which exports Corona to the US, said: "Despite the misinformation circulating, consumer sentiment and sales remain strong. Consumers understand there’s no linkage between the virus and our business."
5W surveyed 737 American beer-drinkers over the age of 21 on Tuesday and Wednesday last week. It found that 38% would not buy Corona under any circumstances, but only 4% of those who usually drink Corona would stop doing so. The research also found that 14% said they wouldn't order Corona in a public venue and 16% were confused about whether Corona is related to coronavirus.
Asked for comment about Corona’s statement, 5W chief executive Ronn Torossian said via email: "Sorry, untrue – what specifically is untrue?
"Could one imagine walking into a bar and saying ‘Hey, can I have a Corona?’ or ‘Pass me a Corona?’"
Coronavirus has created a disaster for the Corona brand, Torossian contended: "What brand wants to be linked to a virus [that] is killing people worldwide?"
In a follow-up email, he said that while there is no connection between coronavirus and Corona, people are scared and confused. The brand should have thought twice before running a campaign for Corona Hard Seltzer, for which it has received backlash for a since-deleted tweet promising hard seltzer flavors are "coming ashore soon".
"It’s bad taste and timing to run ads [that] show four cans of the seltzer on a beach with the wording: ‘Coming ashore soon,’" Torossian pointed out.
Google Trends showed a spike in searches for "beer virus" and "corona beer virus" between 26 January and 1 February, Torossian added: "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; ‘coronavirus beer’ was used 22,200 times; and ‘beer coronavirus’ was used 390 times."
Asked about the deleted tweet, Bowman said that "the attention around the teaser distracts from the strength of the planned ad campaign and the overall positive consumer sentiment".
"Now that our product has officially hit the market, our campaign evolves," she said. "Early signs are extremely positive and we have high expectations for this new brand offering."
5W works with alcohol brands including 1800 Tequila, Direct Wines and Purity Vodka, according to its website.
Representatives for Zeno Group, which handles Corona's PR, were not immediately available for comment.
Anheuser-Busch InBev, maker of Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois and others, forecast a 10% decline in first-quarter profit last week after the coronavirus outbreak hit beer sales during Chinese New Year. The company said the virus led to a decline in demand in China, both at bars and at home.
"We trust that our consumers, by and large, understand that this virus has nothing to do with our beer or our business," Bowman told PRWeek last month.
A version of this story first appeared on PRWeek