Beer Brands Battle Over Corn Syrup

Advertising Law

In a not-so-surprising move in the escalating war between beer brands, MillerCoors has filed a false advertising suit against Anheuser-Busch accusing the company of spending tens of millions of dollars on an “extensive and pervasive advertising scheme designed to frighten consumers.”

Anheuser-Busch’s commercials, set in medieval times (with period costumes, royalty and knights), ran multiple times during the Super Bowl and claimed that Miller Lite and Coors Light contain corn syrup.

But the ads were deceptive and intended to confuse consumers, Miller alleged. According to Miller, the company does use corn syrup as a fermentation aid in both beverages, but it cannot be found in the finished product. Anheuser-Busch was trying to trick consumers into believing that Miller’s beers contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a highly unpopular ingredient, Miller added.

“AB knew that if it could mislead consumers into believing that Miller Lite and Coors Light contain corn syrup or HFCS – a ‘triggering’ substance, by AB’s own account – it could frighten them into switching away from those brands in favor of Bud Light,” according to the Wisconsin federal court complaint. “And, it spent an enormous amount of money to seize on and reinforce the consumer confusion – over $13 million in media time to convey the message to nearly 100 million consumers during the Super Bowl LII broadcast alone.”

The false and misleading claims continued after the Super Bowl, Miller alleged, with additional radio, print, digital, social, out-of-home and retail ads.

Anheuser-Busch’s “willfully negative statements” are diluting the goodwill and iconic standing of the Coors Light and Miller Lite brands, Miller told the court, causing significant reputational damages.

For the purported false advertising and trademark dilution, Miller asked the court to halt Anheuser-Busch’s advertising campaign, order a corrective ad campaign and award monetary damages.

To read the complaint in MillerCoors LLC v. Anheuser-Busch Companies LLC, click here.

Why it matters: The lawsuit appears to have only fanned the flames between the two beer companies. Anheuser-Busch responded to the complaint by announcing that it has no plans to change its advertising, calling the lawsuit “baseless” and pointing out that MillerCoors “has admitted to using corn syrup on its website, in social media, in a full-page ad thanking Bud Light following the Super Bowl and even in the lawsuit itself.” Miller also pushed back with new advertisements that appear to depict the actors in Bud Light commercials choosing to drink Miller Lite once the cameras are turned off.

manatt-black

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING

pursuant to New York DR 2-101(f)

© 2020 Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.

All rights reserved