The Beer Corn Wars Rage On: Bud Light Battles Ad Injunction

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 16, 2019 3:00 PM

Super Bowls are known for big beer ads and campaign launches. But an opening salvo in this year's Big Game has ignited a legal battle between two beer behemoths.

Bud Light's insinuations that Miller Lite and Coors Light brew their beers with corn syrup has everyone embroiled in the conflict, including corn farmers, and even garnered an injunction from a federal judge blocking Bud Light and owner Anheuser-Busch from using the words "corn syrup" in ad campaigns until the ongoing litigation is complete.

Bud Light fought the law, and the law won, with the same judge affirming the ban and adding the beer's packaging to the list of forums outlawed from mentioning corn syrup. And so, the Great Beer Corn War continues. Is there any end in sight?

Corn Syrup Conflict

MillerCoors beer beef stems from what it believes is misleading advertising on Bud Light's part. The brewer concedes it uses corn syrup during the brewing process, but says Bud Light's insinuation leaves consumers thinking that their beers contain high fructose corn syrup, which is untrue.

In May, Judge William Conley of the Western District of Wisconsin denied Anheuser-Busch's request to dismiss the case and blocked the company displaying certain billboards and airing television ads that deemed "misleading." Anheuser-Busch appealed the injunction, but earlier this month Conley affirmed the order, and extended it to include beer packaging as well. Although Anheuser-Busch will have until March 2020 to sell through existing Bud Light packaging that contains language and an icon indicating it contains "no corn syrup" that are already on store shelves.

Attacking Attack Ads

Although the packaging does not explicitly mention MillerCoors products, Judge Conley concluded that "a reasonable jury could find that the implicit message of the packaging is that other beers contain corn syrup":

"Moreover, in light of the limited number of beers in the light beer market, with Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light accounting for almost 100 percent of sales, that same jury could also find a substantial segment of consumers would infer that Bud Light's principal competitors contain corn syrup, especially after a hundred million dollar television and print campaign misleadingly suggesting the same thing."

The packaging, according to Conley, could violate the Lanham Act, which covers both trademark usage and false advertising and provides a cause of action if:

  • An advertiser made factually false claims about a product;
  • The advertisement did or could deceive a large segment of the target population;
  • The deception was an important part of the ad;
  • The product is sold across state lines; and
  • The product's manufacturer is likely to be harmed by the deception.

Who will ultimately win the Great Beer Corn Wars? Probably savvy consumers who choose craft and local options that don't use corn syrup to brew beer. Or rice, a non-essential ingredient Bud Light proudly admits to using.

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