Commentary

Legal Battle Brewing Over Anheuser-Busch's 'Corny' Bud Light Campaign

MillerCoors filed suit against Anheuser-Busch InBev in federal court yesterday, claiming that AB's current Bud Light campaign is “false and misleading” and dilutes its trademark.

In January, AB InBev announced that Bud Light was adding an ingredients label to its outer packaging, saying the move was intended to set an industry example of providing greater transparency about beer ingredients. Bud Light’s subsequent Super Bowl and other ads have focused on conveying that Bud Light, unlike Coors Light and Miller Lite, does not use corn syrup in its brewing process.

MillerCoors claims that AB InBev has spent as much as $30 million on the campaign, “including $13 million in its first commercials during this year’s Super Bowl. The ad ['Special Delivery'] showed a medieval caravan pushing a huge barrel of corn syrup to castles for MillerCoors to make Miller Lite and Coors Light. The commercial states that Bud Light isn’t brewed with corn syrup,” the AP’s Ivan Moreno reports.

advertisement

advertisement

“Anheuser-Busch’s ad drew a rebuke from the National Corn Growers Association, which thanked MillerCoors for its support. In its lawsuit, MillerCoors said it’s ‘not ashamed of its use of corn syrup as a fermentation aid,’” Moreno adds.

The lawsuit, posted here first by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was filed in U.S. District Court in Madison, Wis. 

MillerCoors wants the court not only to order Anheuser-Busch to halt its ads, but also “to launch a new campaign ‘to correct the false and misleading impressions’ created by the original and ongoing effort.... Citing the series of television commercials, digital advertising spots and responses received on social media platforms, the lawsuit also asks for compensation for damages,” the Des Moines Register’s Aaron Calvin writes for USA Today.

“The lawsuit further alleges that Anheuser-Busch knew consumers try not to ingest high-fructose corn syrup and would confuse the sweetener with corn syrup,” Ally Marotti writes for the Chicago Tribune.

“‘MillerCoors seeks to set the record straight’ with the lawsuit, according to the complaint…. The company uses corn syrup only to feed the yeast in the fermentation process for Coors Light and Miller Lite, and does not use high-fructose corn syrup at any point, the lawsuit says.’”

The suit also points out that corn syrup is not present in the final beer products that consumers drink, and argues that Bud Light’s “purported rationale for this campaign, ‘transparency,’ is a classic example of corporate double-speak.”

Mike Harting, chief executive of 3 Daughters Brewing in Florida, explains “why the specific sugar in the beer-making process doesn’t matter much” to the Washington Post’s Laura Reiley. 

“When you ferment and make alcohol, you need a sugar source, and historically those sources are local or regional. Sake is made from rice for a reason. You can use wheat, corn, sugar cane, rice. In the U.S., it’s traditional to use wheat products to give a bolder flavor and more of a body. The issue with using all barley or wheat is that they have a higher caloric content; corn or rice is used for light beer because they are lighter and, frankly, cheaper.”

“MillerCoors also claimed that Anheuser-Busch purposely conflated corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, which the lawsuit said was ‘triggering’ to consumers because high-fructose corn syrup has been linked to obesity. Anheuser-Busch did this to ‘frighten consumers’ into switching to Bud Light, the lawsuit said,” Concepción de León reports for the New York Times.

“Anheuser-Busch is fearmongering over a common beer ingredient that’s used, by the way, in many of its own beers as a fermentation aid,” says Adam Collins, MillerCoors’s vice president of communications, de León writes. “We believe that the deliberate deception is bad for the entire industry, and we’re filing this lawsuit to show the world the truth,” Collins adds.

“The lawsuit is only the latest salvo between the rivals since the Super Bowl. MillerCoors has promised free Coors Light in certain bars every time Bud Light launches another attack. It also has pulled back from a planned cross-brewer marketing push designed to win drinkers back from spirits and wine,” Nat Ives writes for the Wall Street Journal.

As the WSJ reported, MillerCoors, AB InBev, Heineken and Constellation Brands “had been discussing teaming up for a national ad campaign to revive U.S. beer sales for more than a year before the Super Bowl commercial aired. Several weeks after it pulled out of the meeting, MillerCoors published Nielsen data showing declining Bud Light sales after the Super Bowl on its blog,” CNBC’s Amelia Lucas writes.

This week, prior to the lawsuit’s filing, the feud accelerated, as reported by Marketing Daily's Karlene Lukovitz. Miller Lite launched new ads, timed for airing during the NBAA tournament, that satirize Bud Light’s medieval-themed corn-syrup-focused campaign, and declare that Miller Lite has “more taste and half the carbs of Bud Light.” Tagline: “In the real world, more taste is what matters.”

Bud Light immediately responded with another ad in which its medieval king character suggests that Bud Light should imitate its example of listing ingredients on its packaging. The ad ends with screen messaging stating that Bud Light is “brewed with no corn syrup.”

“MillerCoors' lawsuit is baseless and will not deter Bud Light from providing consumers with the transparency they demand,” Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman Gemma Hart said in a statement, Lucas reports. “We stand behind the Bud Light transparency campaign and have no plans to change the advertising.”

Whether it can change the direction of its market share is the more pressing question.

Next story loading loading..