Early headlines suggested that drinkers would hold an unfortunate overlap in names against the brand.
A series of headlines early in the coronavirus pandemic suggested that its many impacts could include damage to a beer brand with a suddenly awkward name.
“Corona beer can’t catch a break amid coronavirus fear,” read one in February, for example.
Marketing executives responsible for selling Corona didn’t shrug off the reports, according to John Alvarado, senior vice president for brand marketing at the beer division of Constellation Brands Inc. “By and large we were experiencing many of the same challenges as other marketers,” he said. “But we had the added layer and the pressure that this virus was using the name ‘corona.’”
As the year nears its end, however, Corona sales in stores have held up.
In-store spending on Corona-branded beer and hard seltzer in the U.S. comprised 6.78% of the category this year through Dec. 6, essentially unchanged from the equivalent period a year prior, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.
Excluding fast-growing spiked seltzers—such as Corona Hard Seltzer, which was introduced during the pandemic—the story was the same: Corona’s share of in-store beer sales through Dec. 6 held steady with a year earlier, IRI said.
“There wasn’t really any kind of negative impact on Corona sales,” said Vivien Azer, managing director and senior research analyst at investment bank Cowen Inc. “That’s clear in the data.”
The brand’s popularity and familiarity helped it weather any potential damage, Ms. Azer said.
“During the early days of the lockdown, consumers gravitated toward large, trusted brands,” she said. “If you’re only going to the store once or twice a week, are you going to load up on a craft beer you’ve never tried before or are you going to get a beer you know?”
Some of the news coverage that suggested a hard year ahead for Corona cited research by data and analytics company YouGov PLC, which reported in February that consumer sentiment around the brand was deteriorating.
YouGov said Monday that the situation changed soon thereafter. “While YouGov BrandIndex measured a dip in Corona’s Buzz score—which measures brand sentiment across all media—last spring among beer drinkers, it was short-lived and soon returned to its previous level,” it said. “The data also show that there was no notable change in their purchase consideration or overall brand impression during the spring and its scores have remained on a pretty even keel as the year progressed.”
Data-intelligence firm Morning Consult backed that up. Corona’s favorability score among consumers 21 years old and up dipped earlier this year, perhaps reflecting some confusion or association between the brand and the coronavirus, according to Victoria Sakal, managing director of brand intelligence at Morning Consult. But consumers are just as likely as before to say they might buy it, she said.
To navigate the year, Constellation Brands bolstered its regular efforts to monitor consumer sentiment and brand health for Corona, but found that few people were associating the brand with the virus that causes Covid-19, Mr. Alvarado said.
It tried to avoid giving the subject more public attention, largely limiting its visible response to a statement at the end of February that Corona was still selling well, Mr. Alvarado said. “For the remainder of the year we maintained a quiet posture and did not do much external press,” he said.
But Corona continued to advertise this year, following a pause early in the pandemic that was common among marketers.
It tailored some campaigns to the situation, altering its usual Cinco de Mayo marketing push to urge consumers to celebrate “Cinco at Home” and adding a live-stream benefit concert for the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund.
It delayed a planned “Protect Our Beaches” campaign until 2021, but proceeded with a campaign to promote all the Corona brands, themed “La Vida Más Fina” and featuring entertainers Snoop Dogg and Bad Bunny. The effort began shooting before the pandemic, and didn’t allude to it.
Corona is again running its “O Tannenpalm” Christmas ad, which made its debut in 1990 and has appeared each year since, according to Constellation Brands.
“We’re an optimistic brand, and this season certainly plays to that, and when you think about all that has gone on this year, I think that message is even more needed,” said Ann Legan, vice president for Corona brand marketing at Constellation Brands.
This article was first published on The Wall Street Journal.