In Episode 36 of the “Law & Business” Podcast, Anthony and producer Marc Sterne talk about the MillerCoors lawsuit against AB InBev over its “corn syrup” campaign, which started during the Super Bowl. This episode (minisode? miniwebisode?) was recorded at Chatter in Washington, D.C. Thank you, Marc for recording and helping with all the episodes at Chatter.
MillerCoors is suing Anheuser Busch InBev, seeking injunctive and other relief for what it calls “a false and misleading advertising campaign targeting Miller Lite and Coors Light.”
It’s the latest step in a brewing marketing feud that began during the Super Bowl. Bud Light, in three spots that aired during the game, attacked MillerCoors’ Coors Light and Miller Lite brands by name, noting that those brews use corn syrup.
MillerCoors, in its complaint filed in federal court in Wisconsin, said the ads are meant to deceive beer drinkers into thinking its beers contain corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup in order to boost sales of Bud Light. Plus, it says the ads dilute its trademarks, which would be in violation of the Lanham Act. MillerCoors seeks a halt to the “false and misleading” ad claims and “willful trademark dilution,” saying that the ads have diluted the goodwill associated with its brands and have damaged the reputation of the brands.
Anthony and Marc discuss the complaint, the false advertising claims, the possible harms to the MillerCoors trademark, and defenses for AB.
“AB’s purported rationale for this campaign, ‘transparency,’ is a classic example of corporate double-speak,” says AB’s complaint.
A predicted defense for AB is going be the plain meaning of the words in the advertisement. AB is saying that its Bud Light is not brewed with corn syrup and that MillerCoors’ Coors Light is. Predictably, AB will just stick with the plain meaning of those words and that consumers should only hear the words in their denotations, and not their connotations, which is what MillerCoors’ lawsuit focuses on.
Smaller businesses need to understand that advertising and the use of a competitor’s trademark do come with risk. Managing the risk is necessary and understanding the limits of what is not a deceptive and not a misleading ad are necessary also.