Coronavirus and Tito's Vodka: Guest Post by Alex Segar and Christian Casagranda

The first case of the Coronavirus can be traced back to November 17, according to the South Morning China Post. Now, four months later, there are nearly 200,000 confirmed cases and 8,000 deaths worldwide, causing the United States to declare the Coronavirus outbreak as a nation-wide pandemic. The created rule of thumb, for those confirmed with the virus, is they must be quarantined for at least 14 days. To take extra precaution, employees from businesses have transitioned to work from home, restaurants can only be open for delivery and take out, and grocery stores are only open for civilians aged 60 years and older for a few hours in the morning. As fear is striking the world's population, people are emptying store shelves of food, water, medicine, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and face masks. (Figure 1)

Along with face masks and sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer has been one of the most in-demand items. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says hand-washing with soap and water is the most efficient way to clean your hands, but when that is not an option, it is advised to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.  

However, where it isn’t sold out in convenience stores or on websites like Amazon, third-party vendors are selling bottles for more than $100, according to Business Insider. On March 2, every Purell product on the brand’s Amazon storefront was sold out. A disclaimer next to each sold-out Purell product read: “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.”

The unavailability and the inflated prices of hand-sanitizer across the country have prompted some civilians to turn to “do-it-yourself” (DIY) hand sanitizer formulas that have been going viral online. These DIY sanitizers usually combine two-thirds of a cup of 99% rubbing alcohol or ethanol to kill germs, and one-third of a cup of aloe vera to protect your skin from drying out.  Nevertheless, when hand-sanitizer products were swiped clean from the store aisles, many misinformed civilians flocked to their local liquor store to purchase vodka, such as Tito’s Handmade Vodka, to make their own sanitizers. Many of these uncertain success stories were celebrated on Twitter. 

Not so fast….

Given that Tito’s Handmade Vodka contains less than 60% of alcohol, which is the minimum percentage required to make a hand-sanitizer effective, the company immediately issued a statement on Twitter warning the public that their product could not be used to create an effective hand sanitizer. Titos tweeted (Figure 2): “Tito's homemade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC."  In an attached statement, Tito’s cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by noting that washing hands is the most effective way to combat the virus.

With this statement, Tito’s was able to address the issue head-on while also supplying its users with informative materials during this pandemic. During a crisis, it is important for any public relations team to act quickly and effectively to communicate with consumers and ensure that the organization’s reputation is well protected. Moreover, it is important to use this climate of fear as an opportunity to build trust with your consumers. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 71 percent wanted their employees and CEOs to respond during challenging times. As the COVID-19 situation continues to progress, Tito’s should continue to look out for the well-being of its consumers to ensure that their company not only secures its reputation, but also enhances it in the minds of key decision-makers, employees, and valued consumers. As stated by Laskin (2013), enhanced reputation leads to better financial performance.

Human trials for the Coronavirus vaccine will begin in April, but many virologists are not predicting the vaccine to be ready for another 18 months (Figure 3). A further issue is that as soon as the vaccine is approved, it is going to be needed in extensive quantities and many of the organizations in the Coronavirus vaccine race do not have the required production volume. While we can be hopeful that the end to this pandemic will come sooner, the likelihood of people living in fear will continue which will lead to the constant sellout of supplies such as hand-sanitizer, forcing people to find other solutions.

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