Last week I wrote about Pabst creatively interpreting the law to make whiskey, which would otherwise have to be marketed as moonshine, by running it through a barrel for five seconds. Sometimes a beer company’s creativity can get it in trouble, however.
If you’ve watched any of the NCAA tournament this year, you’ve probably seen about 1,000 Bud Light commercials featuring a medieval king singing the praises of his beer while disparaging other beers.
The ad campaign started last year and very, very briefly popularized the phrase, “Dilly, dilly!” Then in February, Anheuser-Busch spent more than $13 million on Super Bowl ads that accused Miller Lite and Coors Light for being made with high fructose corn syrup.
In one such spot that aired during the first quarter of the Super Bowl, the Bud Light King rejects a delivery of corn syrup because it is not used in making Bud Light beer. He proclaims that Bud Light only has four ingredients: rice, barley, hops and water. The king then instructs his servants to deliver the barrel to the Miller Lite castle, but a man there claims they already received their shipment of corn syrup. So he then directs the servants to bring the barrel to the Coors Light castle, where it is heartily accepted.
Many viewers found the commercial to be funny. MillerCoors, however, most certainly did not.
Last month, MillerCoors filed a lawsuit in federal court in Madison against Anheuser-Busch, claiming its competitor singled out MillerCoors’ use of corn syrup “for a deliberate and nefarious purpose” – to frighten consumers who were likely to think high-fructose corn syrup was in their Miller Lite and Coors Light beers. MillerCoors also alleges that the Bud Light commercial, along with other advertising, used its trademarks to denigrate and malign Miller Lite and Coors Light. Accordingly, the suit accuses Anheuser-Busch of false advertising and federal trademark dilution.
According to the complaint, MillerCoors uses corn syrup as a fermentation aid, and it is broken down and consumed by yeast. As a result, the finished product contains no corn syrup. In addition, no high-fructose corn syrup is used at any stage of the brewing process.
MillerCoors further points out that Anheuser-Busch uses corn syrup to brew a variety of its products, including Stella Artois Spritzer. The suit also asserts that the brewer uses high-fructose corn syrup in some of its malt beverages.
MillerCoors is seeking an injunction that would require Anheuser-Busch from running any ads that imply that Miller Lite and Coors Light have corn syrup in them. The suit also asks for corrective advertising that clarifies Miller Lite and Coors Light do not contain corn syrup. Finally, MillerCoors is seeking treble damages of the gains realized by Anheuser-Busch from the campaign.
In response, Anheuser-Busch released a statement saying MillerCoors’ suit “is baseless and will not deter Bud Light from providing consumers with the transparency they demand.”
While tension between the competitors has been brewing for some time, after the disparaging ads, MillerCoors thought a lawsuit was good for what ales the company. And it appears Anheuser-Busch is apparently sticking to its guns. So this dispute between the competing breweries has barley just begun.