When times become tough, stressful and trying, many people react with humour. As the world finds itself in the midst of a global medical virus, a different type of virus – a virtual virus – has taken off and continues to grow. COVID-19. A virus interchangeably referred to as Coronavirus. A virus which is familiar to almost all of humanity at the present time. And a virus which has become the subject of many social media memes, jokes and other humorous online content.
But what happens when it is your business or personality that becomes the subject of such a “virtual virus”?
Coronavirus and Corona beer
Corona means crown in Latin, which is how coronaviruses got their name, because they share visual similarities with a crown when viewed through a microscope. [https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-events/news/novel-coronavirus-covid-19-sars-queensland-australia-how-to-understand-protect-prevent-spread-symptoms-treatment] Corona beer shares this name and underlying meaning, and in fact, displays an image of a crown on each product produced. The result – the public at large, whether seriously or in jest, were quick to link the two.
The viral hashtag #coronabeervirus is one that is trending. Countless memes have surfaced using the hashtag, including for example, images of empty shelves at supermarkets with the exception of fully stocked pallets of Corona beer. The implication – that consumers are not drinking the beer for fear of the virus.
Celebrities are also making the connection. Actors, Rita Wilson and husband, Tom Hanks were recently diagnosed as having Coronavirus in Australia. On 13 March 2020, Rita tweeted:
From here on out, the only Corona I want is from Mexico and you drink it.
The company’s response has been mixed. Constellation Brands, which produces and markets various brands, including Corona beer, responded with a tweet on 29 February 2020 stating:
With Corona Extra sales up 5% per the latest 4-wk period, our beer business continues its strong performance despite unfounded claims about the impact of COVID-19 on the business and consumer sentiment. Full release: https://bit.ly/2TmhGHO
The company also issued a press statement on 28 February 2020, setting out specific facts about the sales figures of Corona beers and expressly stating that “misinformation” was circulating in traditional and social media without further investigation of validation. [https://www.cbrands.com/news/articles/constellation-brands-beer-business-continues-strong-performance-despite-unfounded-claims-about-the-impact-of-covid-19-virus-on-its-business]
Corona beer’s dedicated twitter account has also directly commented, with a less serious but good sport response to Rita Wilson, on 14 March 2020 tweeting:
Send us a message when you’re all clear and we can make it happen [emoji]… in the meantime we can offer you some digital escapism: https://instagram.com/p/B9rYX_thSbZ/
Not in isolation
Corona beer is not, however, alone when it comes to being the subject of a “virtual virus”.
In 2013, on popular Australian television drama “Offspring”, viewers watched in devastation as beloved character “Patrick” died after a hit-and-run car incident. The response from Offspring television fans was prompt and outraged. Many took to social media to express their emotions. Unfortunately, punk rock American band, The Offspring, became the recipient of such emotions. The Offspring responded promptly to the surge in social media activity, commenting with their own views on Patrick’s death – despite likely having never heard of or watched the show.
Australia’s current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is also impacted. Commonly referred to as “ScoMo”, the Twitter account @ScoMo (held by an Orlando, Florida resident who is also named Scott Morrison) frequently receives tweets actually directed at the Australian PM. Scott Morrison PM (and his team) does not therefore see all public communications actually directed to him, and @ScoMo is provided with a platform to comment on Australian politics with the potential for readers to assume it is the Australian PM.
If your business or personality becomes the subject of a joke, or misdirected online viral phenomenon, the questions to consider are whether it is likely to have an impact on your brand, whether such impact is likely to be positive or negative, and how best to leverage or minimise that impact.
The best approach, as always, is preparation.
- Watches on your key brands, including social media watches, are essential, so that you are aware when your brand is gaining attention and you can consider whether that attention is positive or negative.
- Monitoring of social media should be frequent, including monitoring third party accounts which have brands / names similar to your own. Consider whether information is being misdirected to other accounts and if so, what action might be possible to remedy this.
- Preparing and implementing a pre-developed brand policy will guide your response. This should set out a list of principles to be followed when considering a response, timing for such a response, and the necessary sign-off channels that a response must go through before it is released publically. Of course, not every situation can be planned for in such a policy, and flexibility is likely to be needed, depending on the circumstance of each case. But having these underlying principles will provide a base, so that the ultimate response can be prompt, thorough and consistent with your brand.