Listen, I’ll tell you right from the outset — I’m unlikely to be impartial about this story. You see, I enjoy Miller Lite as my beverage of choice — lots of beer snobs will likely have some snarky comment about how I just like the taste of water and I’m already over it. Yes, I can tell the difference between good domestic light beer (read: Miller Lite) and crap tasting ones (read: Bud Light) and yes, I’ll drink either over some skunked, hoppy IPA that the hipsters go crazy for. So, the long and the short of it all is I find myself personally invested in the outcome of this case, and my natural inclination will be to defend the makers of that sweet elixir of the gods, Miller Lite. But I’ll try to get through the facts of the case without too much editorializing.
Anyway, I’m sure we all remember Bud Light’s advertisement from this year’s Super Bowl when they took the cute concept from the “Dilly Dilly” ads and ran it straight into the ground in bald-faced attempt to “own” their domestic light beer rivals, Coors Light and Miller Lite. Anyway if you avoided the Super Bowl because the specter of CTE and the NFL’s treatment of serviceable QB Colin Kaepernick (who’d frankly be a welcome breath of fresh air over aging corpse Eli Manning), here’s the commercial:
That commercial is also the basis for a new lawsuit filed last week against Anheuser-Busch, maker of Bud Light, by MillerCoors the brewer of their two biggest competitors, Miller Lite and Coors Light. The complaint alleges false advertising and federal trademark dilution saying the advertisement was constructed as to mislead the viewing public:
Under the guise of ‘transparency,’ Anheuser-Busch singled out MillerCoors use of a common brewing fermentation aid, corn syrup, for a deliberate and nefarious purpose: It was aware that many consumers prefer not to ingest ‘high-fructose corn syrup’ or ‘HFCS,’ and had reportedly conducted extensive focus group testing in which it found that consumers do not understand the difference between ordinary corn syrup (used by numerous brewers, including Anheuser-Busch itself) and HFCS, the controversial sweetener commonly used in soft drinks.
And to top it off, corn syrup of any variety isn’t even in the final product as it gets eaten by the yeast as part of the fermentation process.
Anheuser-Busch reportedly spent $13 million on the ad campaign, and 100 million people have viewed the ad. And as noted by Anheuser-Busch chief of marketing Andy Goeler in an interview with Food & Wine Magazine, “the campaign has ‘led to more searches on Google for corn syrup than ever before.’”
In a statement, MillerCoors’s Vice President of Communications Adam Collins said the lawsuit is designed to reveal the truth about the ingredients in domestic light beer:
“We have always believed in transparency, which is why we were the first major brewer to put nutritional information and all of our ingredients online. But while their Bud Light brand is talking all about transparency, Anheuser-Busch has admitted that its campaign was designed to mislead the public,” Collins said. “Anheuser-Busch is fearmongering over a common beer ingredient it uses in many of its own beers, as a fermentation aid that is not even present in the final product. This deliberate deception is bad for the entire beer category.”
MillerCoors alleges damages to its reputation and sales and is seeking to block Anheuser-Busch from further false advertisements. I’ll happily enjoy a Miller Lite as I watch this legal beer fight go down.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, and host of The Jabot podcast. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).
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