From isis ladies wear to Russian meerkats: what to do if your brand inadvertently becomes part of a global disaster

The last decade has been defined by major world events, from ISIS to Brexit, Covid to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The world has veered from one huge talking point to the next.

But what do you do if one of these world events coincidentally links to your unrelated brand? What if something totally out of your control suddenly becomes attached in a negative way to the brand you have worked so hard to build? 

Back in 2007, Jill Campbell was brainstorming names for her ladies’ boutique in Malvern, Worcestershire. She finally settled on naming her business after an Egyptian goddess of magic, beauty and femininity. Yet 7 years later she was facing threats of letter bombs through her door and having abuse shouted through the window by passers-by. The name she had chosen was ISIS which by 2014 had a meaning she could never have predicted.

Is there a way to turn a negative into a positive?

Despite there being a huge risk in terms of getting this wrong in the current world of sensitivity and cancel culture, there could be a way for her to have a fresh start

When Coronavirus became the biggest news event in a generation back in early 2020, Mexican beer brand Corona suffered the unfortunate fate of sharing the name with the virus that brought the world to a standstill. Whilst to many it was obviously clear that there was no link between the two, one survey revealed that 38% of Americans wouldn’t buy the brand under any circumstances because of the virus outbreak, and another reported that there had been a spike in internet searches for “corona beer virus”

Corona handled the situation well. Rather than making any panic decisions, or making light of the connection between the two which could have risked being disrespectful at a time when millions were dying, they issued a statement that showed faith in their customer base and rode out the storm. “We believe that consumers, by and large, understand there’s no linkage between the virus and our beer/business,” a spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in January. And whilst it is likely that Corona will never shake off the unfortunate link, this has proved to be a case that any publicity is good publicity. The brand became a talking point on social media with people keen to be in on the joke. In a world where people had more time to sit and enjoy a beer in the garden, Corona actually benefited from customers being reminded of the drink and sales figures were not impacted despite the initial dip.

As we now enter an uncertain period with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, all businesses are on guard as to what impact this could have financially, but no one could have predicted that it would be fluffy national treasure Aleksandr Orlov who has dominated Compare the Maket’s advertising for the last 10 years that would be taken off air due to his Russian accent. With no real connection to Russia – the brand could have chosen anywhere for the comedy creature to hail from – this is once again just an unfortunate coincidence. Compare the Market have built an incredibly successful brand around these meerkats and so to have this pulled from under them could potentially be devastating for the business. 

However, they are actually facing an even bigger problem as the rise in the energy price cap is rendering their main service, energy price comparison, virtually useless. 

In this instance this could be the perfect chance for Compare the Market to realign their marketing strategy, whilst capitalising on the PR that has been generated by having to pull central character Aleksandr. There is opportunity to get their audience involved in selecting a new meerkat to lead the brand (at least in the short term) who is much more focussed on promoting the other services that the business offers. Therefore, taking the opportunity to move both energy and Aleksandr to the side for the time being. A new character could be introduced that focuses on the other services they offer e.g. a young, tech savvy niece who focuses on the house, car and holiday insurance – and happens to be well travelled enough that she has lost her accent!

So what can you do if a global catastrophe happens to be defined by your moniker? 

Firstly, don’t panic.

In every example given here these have been unique experiences for everyone and there are more likely bigger issues than your brand’s response in the initial stages. Your response will need to evolve as more is learnt about the event. 

Use your audience, keep them involved using your social media channels.

Use their insight and comments to guide you to the best approach. With ISIS, clearly the audience felt passionately about changing the name, whereas social media listening around Corona revealed that many comments were a joke that had the potential to die down.

Don’t pretend it isn’t happening, acknowledge the impact this will be having on your customers.

In some cases, such as the ISIS shop, a brand name change is an unfortunate but necessary decision. There’s no coming back from it. For others that already have a global strength in their brand name, such as Corona, it’s a case of tactfully riding out the storm. Keep doing a great job and delivering engaging content whilst sticking to a clear response that explains your positioning. 

In some circumstances, this could be the chance to reimagine your brand or deliver a campaign in a clever way that moves the brand forward but also away from the issue.

So, what would we have done had the examples above been our clients?


We would have rebranded the women’s clothes shop to Sia – the Egyptian goddess of heart. Keeping close to their brand but also acknowledging the need for change. We would have created really beautiful new branding such as signage and shop interior to take advantage of having the whole local area watching. We would have recommended a relaunch event and invited local press along with a fundraising event such as a raffle to raise money for Syrian refugees


Like Corona did, we would have recommended issuing a very straight statement, backing up faith in the customer base. We would have used this time of extra publicity and eyes on social media to put out a strong campaign. This campaign would have been about bringing Mexico to your garden. Capitalising on a time when people were desperate for holidays and outdoor events were key. High quality images and video focusing on the quality of the product and the experience and emotive feeling of drinking the summery lager. 

Compare the Market

We would introduce a new meerkat to take charge at this tumultuous time. She would be introduced by reading a letter from Aleksandr Orlov – removing the need for his inclusion – and be revealed to be his niece. She would be young, cool and focus on the other aspects of Compare the Markets offering such as car, home and holiday insurance by being of a key age to be exploring each of these for the first time. 

To really get the audience involved a public vote could potentially take place to choose the meerkat or a competition could be held to win a toy version of the new character. This would allow the successful meerkat campaign to continue, but also leave room for Aleksandr to be brought back in if appropriate down the line. 

This also gives the chance to re-engage a new audience and add life back into what is now a 10 year old idea as well as appealing to young girls to engage with their parents.