The beer wars continue! And now the key players have moved to the courtroom.
MillerCoors has sued Anheuser-Busch for its corn-syrup campaign, which launched during the Super Bowl. The Monty-python themed commercials claim that Bud Light isn’t brewed using corn syrup, but Miller Light and Coors Lite are.
The not-so-subtle message is that there’s something wrong or bad about using corn syrup in the fermentation process. The reality is the corn syrup is eaten up by the yeast so none remains in the actual beer. For the record, Bud Light uses rice, instead of corn, for fermentation. No rice is left in the beer either.
Corn farmers were, unsurprisingly, upset about the commercials. Coors Lite responded by toasting farmers. Anheuser-Busch gave lip-service to the idea, even though they’ve continued to run the controversial Bud Light commercials.
CoorsMiller’s lawsuit includes claims for false advertising and trademark dilution. The suit’s basis is that these commercials make it sounds like consumers are consuming corn syrup, even though they aren’t. And MillerCoors claims Anheuser-Busch focused on corn syrup to trigger an association with the much-maligned high-fructose corn syrup.
MillerCoors seeks an injunction stopping the Bud Light commercials from airing.
Anheuser-Busch remains undeterred. Gemma Hart, vice-president of communications said it remains committed to it’s corn-syrup campaign for the sake of transparency.
Transparency? I’m not sure how she said that with a straight face (maybe she didn’t). Bud Light’s campaign has nothing to do with transparency, or empowering consumers, or whatever public-relations terms Anheuser-Busch wants to use. MillerCoors’ complaint got it right: these commercials were about using a negative association with corn syrup to taint consumer’s perception about Miller Light and Coors Lite.
Does that translate to a legal claim? That’s a closer question.
False advertising claims are a bit outside of my wheelhouse. But here’s what my (very basic) research revealed. A false-advertising claim under federal law requires MillerCoors to show: (1) a false or misleading statement of fact; (2) that is used in a commercial advertisement or promotion; (3) that deceives or is likely to deceive in a material way; (4) in interstate commerice; and (5) has caused or is likely to cause competitive or commercial injury to MillerCoors.
The biggest issues will be whether the claims were false or misleading and whether it deceives in a material way. I’ve made a good case (if i say so myself!) on both of these elements. But the court isn’t a blog. And I’m not sure how hard it is to prove these two things (and it obviously gets a little more complicated depending on various factors).
I’m not sure the outcome will really have a big impact on the marketing issues I usually write about. But it’s intereting anyway. And if MillerCoors is at least able to litigate for awhile, causing Anheuser-Busch to incur costs, maybe it has a chilling effect on companies hoping to utilize this approach.
Of course, I’ll keep following it.