Chances are, you’ve heard sometime in the past week that “38 percent of beer-drinking Americans would not buy Corona under any circumstances now.” The statement came from a survey conducted by 5W Public Relations, which argued the threat that coronavirus (Covid-19) would become a global pandemic is a PR disaster for the famous beer brand. The statistic proceeded to spread rapidly across news outlets, aided by a CNN tweet that went viral.
But is it true?
Constellation Brands, which owns Corona, just released a statement fighting the notion that recent events have negatively affected the brand. In fact, the company claims sales are actually up 5 percent in the U.S. over the latest four-week period, nearly doubling the 52-week trend for the brand.
But rather than jump into a defense against rapidly spreading misinformation, Constellation Brands CEO Bill Newlands did something very important, first.
He recognized the gravity of the situation, and shared a little empathy.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this terrible virus and we hope efforts to more fully contain it gain traction soon,” said Newlands.
Newlands then continued:
It’s extremely unfortunate that recent misinformation about the impact of this virus on our business has been circulating in traditional and social media without further investigation or validation. These claims simply do not reflect our business performance and consumer sentiment, which includes feedback from our distributor and retailer partners across the country. We’ve seen no impact to our people, facilities or operations and our business continues to perform very well.
This simple statement from Corona is a PR masterpiece, but it’s also something more: a lesson in emotional intelligence.
What’s emotional intelligence got to do with it?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions. In the business world, it includes being able to influence how others feel about your brand.
With his opening statement, Newlands put the focus where it belongs–on a serious state of affairs that has many living in fear. But then, he correctly went on to address a major problem: how quickly misleading information can spread online.
In my book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I speak about the harm that can come about when people are eager to spread information that hasn’t been verified or that may be misleading. In some cases, it’s possible that there are people behind the scenes striving to manipulate your emotions, in an attempt to get you to contribute to or help spread a false or biased narrative, either to spread their personal ideology or to benefit financially.
Interestingly, it didn’t take long for the “38 percent of Americans refuse to drink Corona” headline to do its own damage.
“On Twitter, where ‘38% of Americans’ was the top national trend for parts of the day, many writers with large followings used it as an occasion to condemn their fellow citizens as idiots,” writes John Hopkins University professor Yascha Mounk for the Atlantic. For example, author Benjamin Dreyer wrote that “38% of Americans shouldn’t be allowed to roam free.”
But by fighting back with some data of its own, Constellation Brands attempted to separate myth from reality, and kill the stereotypes in the process. The company included multiple statistics to show that sales had outpaced typical trends. “All business units supporting our beer business are seeing positive sales trends for the brand thus far this calendar year,” read Constellation’s statement.
Of course, even hard data and qualities like empathy can be manipulated to fit an agenda. And that’s why Newlands’s suggestion to further investigate or validate the stories we read is such a good one.
You could say, it’s the emotionally intelligent thing to do.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.