The first skirmish in the beer wars played out in a Wisconsin federal courthouse. And MillerCoors came out on top!
It’s been several months since Anheuser-Busch debuted its anti-corn syrup campaign at the Super Bowl. Readers will recall that Bud Light’s commercials mocked Miller Lite and Coors Lite for using corn in the fermentation process. The beer giants battled it out over social media. And then MillerCoors filed a lawsuit.
As part of the lawsuit, MillerCoors asked the judge for a preliminary injunction. This is a procedural mechanism parties can use to stop bad behavior while they litigate. And they’re only granted when the requesting party can show the judge that its claim has merit and is likely to succeed.
Judge William Conley was convinced and granted the preliminary injunction. So Anheuser-Busch must stop:
- saying Bud Light contains “100% less corn syrup;”
- referencing Bud Light and “no corn syrup” without reference to “brewed with, “made with,” or “uses;” and
- describing “corn syrup” as an ingredient “in” the finished product.
And it’s worth noting that Judge Conley also denied Anheuser-Busch’s motion to dismiss. That’s basically the initial procedural hurdle that a party has to get past when filing a lawsuit. So MillerCoors is sitting pretty so far.
Now, I haven’t seen the full documents, but I understand that the preliminary injunction doesn’t grant MillerCoors everything it requested. So the entire marketing campaign didn’t get pulled.
But this is definitely a strong start! Anheuser-Busch is trying to spin the results by claiming victory for “transparency.” I have no idea how that’s even supposed to make sense. But when you’re having a bad day in court, I guess you can’t always show it.
In a statement, MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley enjoyed the moment and had this to say:
As the dominant market leader, Anheuser Busch should be seeking to grow the beer category, not destroy it through deceptive advertising. Their campaign is bad for the public, bad for the beer industry and against the law. We are happy to hold them accountable for it, and we look forward to the next steps in this case .
I like Gavin’s sentiments. Why would the industry leader tear down it’s competitors with a malicious falsehood? I know “big” beer companies are struggling to hold onto a shrinking market share. But I’m not sure a bad marketing campaign is ever a viable solution. Why not try to innovate or adapt instead? That seems to be a better and more business-savvy option.
So to recap: MillerCoors 1, Anheuser-Busch 0.