Corona: A Twin Earth Case
Remember ‘it’s not in the head’.
We’ll talk about this toward the end.
The Ting Tings, a British musical duo, released a song by the name ‘That’s not my name’ from their debut album in 2008. This song is about a girl whose name people forget and call her by different names like Hell, Her and Jane. The girl reacts to it and says out loud, ‘that’s not my name’. After more than a decade, this song still seems relevant.
Corona, the Mexican-brewed beer, has been struggling to cross some unanticipated roadblocks since a couple of weeks, but at the cost of its brand equity and value. Ever since the news about Corona virus broke out, searches on the internet ebbed – about the virus and where it has been spreading. Surprisingly, people are searching with the keywords ‘Corona-beer-virus’. By the second week of January 2020, the searches for ‘beer virus’ jumped up more than 700% and the searches for ‘beer coronavirus’ soared to a staggering 3,200%, which is quite a blow to this brand.
It all seems stupid but somehow stupidity works at times. Maybe, it’s time for Corona to sing a song like ‘that’s not what my name means, for god’s sake!’
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This is not the first time something like this happened. In 2016, Tata Motors announced a city car by the name Zica but they renamed the same car just before its initial release because of the outbreak of Zika virus, which is a homonym of the car’s previous name Zica (derived from ‘Zippy Car’). Tata had some luck lurking in their pockets which helped them pull it off really well. In 2014, Italo Sussie, the Belgium chocolate maker, renamed their brand as ISIS but called off this new name because it sounds like one of the Islamic terrorist organizations (ISIS). In 1987, a diet candy which went by the name Ayds, decided to find a new name for itself because AIDS (which sounds like Ayds) virus was too serious to be ignored. These are just a few instances where a brand name made some irreversible changes to brands.
When such roadblocks appear in the way of a brand, does it mean that the brand is destined to fall into panic and take a break or rebrand itself? Maybe not. A brand’s name is as good as its brand persona. This persona grows over time. When naming a brand, brand owners deliberately try to plant as much sense as possible in the name so that it is pregnant with meaning. Amazon, Slack, Intel and Accenture are a result of such a thought process. Corona, Ayds, Zica also fall under the same category.
When a virus possesses a name that resembles that of a brand, just like Corona, the brand suffers misrepresentation. It may be because of the fear of viral contamination or precautionary steps of prevention, but when a tech-giant (Amazon) bears the same name as a rainforest that had been recently burnt down due to wildfires, why didn’t people relate the forest to that tech company?
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Corona beer stands in stark contrast with Corona virus; and so does Amazon with Amazon rainforest.
The American philosopher Hilary Putnam has left an answer for this with his ‘Twin Earth experiment’.
Putnam says, it [meaning of a word] is not in our head. He says we acquire the meaning of a word through the environment we live in. His ‘Twin Earth experiment’ says: If there is another planet just like the Earth and that planet also has water like thing on it, but not exactly, we call it water for our understanding because it resembles the water that is on the Earth. But, it is to be noted that the water present on the Earth and the ‘water’ on the other planet are not identical. It just possesses the same name. The meanings and references are entirely different. Therefore, meaning of word is not in our mind but it lives in the ecosystem we live in. This linguistic concept answers the questions of Corona and Amazon too. Corona may be a refreshing beer for its consumers but it is a fatal virus for many others who do not consume it. The people who consume the beer may have surfed the interned just to be sure of its safety. Therefore, it is just a name that is living in two ecosystems, but with different references.
Such unprecedented problems are quite difficult to avoid while naming a brand. So we believe. a multidimensional linguistic evaluation of a name is necessary before naming a brand. Shakespeare may have said ‘What’s in a name?’ We say, in a name, there are things that a brand cannot afford to buy, such as brand equity.