Corona Beer vs. Coronavirus – Is there a legal perspective?

What do you think of when you hear the word “CORONA”?

Do you think of the famous Mexican beer with a slice of lime?
Or do you think of the Coronavirus?

A short time ago, your answer probably would have been: “Beer”.  But in the last two months, billions of people around the world are sure to associate the word “Corona” with “contagious virus”.

The COVID-19, part of the Coronavirus family of viruses that includes SARS and MARS, was first detected in Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019.  Since the outbreak it has continually been referred to, as simply, the Coronavirus.

The virus was called Corona, meaning crown in Latin, due to its appearance under a microscope displaying a fringe reminiscent of a royal crown on each particle.

The massive use of the name Coronavirus with the continued spreading of the virus worldwide, has caused the Corona Beer a real headache (to say the least!). The Corona trademark is now associated with the scary virus while the famous beer is left behind.

According to Google Trends Online, searches for “Corona”, “Corona Beer” and “Corona Beer virus” have risen dramatically around the globe. Apparently, people are mistakenly associating the famous beer with the new virus. The web is full of far-fetched theories associating the two as well as many mems and photos correlating them.
Corona Beer published the following Instagram post:

you don’t get the Coronavirus by drinking our beer! Coronavirus symptoms include fever, runny nose and coughing. Symptoms of drinking Corona include gagging, craving Taco Bell and waking up next to someone you wish you wouldn’t have”. 😊

Kidding aside, there are reports[1] that sales of Corona Beer have reduced in Israel by 30% since the outbreak.  We can assume similar consumer behavior around the world as Corona Beer have recently reported a loss of $170 million during the first quarter of 2020[2].
People in the Beer industry claim2 that a reason for this reduction could be that Beer should be associated with fun and not with a deadly virus.

Are there any Trademark issues here?

Corona is a well-known reputable trademark owned by Constellation Brands. Corona Beer is recognized as a pale lager produced since 1925 by Cervecería Modelo in Mexico. Corona Beer is the world’s third beer brand in terms of sales and in the US Market, Corona Beer is the best-selling imported beer brand.

As discussed above, consumers are relating the virus to the beer, hence creating a negative association hurting Corona Beer sales.

As such, it appears that Corona Beer could have a good case of Trademark Dilution by tarnishment. Dilution by tarnishment involves weakening a well-known mark by unsavory or unflattering associations.

Since the World Health Organization is not a commercial institute or a privately-owned company who gains profit, there seems to be no party to sue.  Furthermore, the Coronavirus is in fact a scientific name so there is no real case of tarnishment.

What can Corona Beer do in order to avoid dilution of their brand?

As Constellation Brands have no one to sue or “blame”, the best course of action would rely on the Marketing department developing an effective strategy. Ideally, the virus will be contained and life around the globe will return to normal, and the Corona Beer brand will live on.  Until then, it’s important that the brand continues to focus their marketing efforts around the values and attributes that they want associated with their product.

There is also the chance that the Coronavirus might be the best thing to ever happen to Corona Beer Brand[3]. In the past few weeks, people have been googling Corona more than ever before, many enter the Corona Beer ’s official website, Facebook and Instagram profiles and Corona Beer Brand is enjoying a great deal of attention with millions of likes and comments.

Only time will tell what the Coronavirus effect will have on the Corona Beer brand.  In the meanwhile wash your hands and be safe 😊

[1] https://www.mako.co.il/blend-blend_special/Article-39af7a9901a1071027.htm  ; https://www.themarker.com/consumer/1.8500138

[2] https://www.mako.co.il/news-world/2020_q1/Article-566f3b477c09071027.htm

[3] https://loopinput.com/the-best-thing-to-ever-happen-to-Corona-beers-brand/