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Let's Not Overthink Coors Light

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 9:  A Coors beer sign hangs in a bar October 9, 2007 in Chicago, Illinois. Molson Coors and SABMiller said they will combine their North American operations to challenge the dominance of Anheuser-Busch which holds a nearly 50 percent market share. SABMiller the number 2 U.S. beer seller has about a 20 percent market share and Molson Coors is number 3 with just over 10 percent market share.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on May 12, 2020 4:42 PM

When can a business claim irreparable injury over alleged false advertising by a competitor? When is a half-truth in an advertisement the equivalent to an intent to deceive consumers? These are complex questions. It's also not something the Seventh Circuit wanted to get into in a dispute over whether Bud Light can advertise that Coors Light is made using corn syrup. Instead, Judge Frank Easterbrook kept it simple in a five-page opinion stating that yes, Bud Light's advertising is fine. It's beer, after all. Let's not get too complicated.

Is Corn Syrup Involved or Not?

According to Judge Easterbrook, the case “is and always has been simple." Miller Coors, the maker of Coors Light, alleged that Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Bud Light, misled consumers into thinking that Coors Light contains high fructose corn syrup. It does not, Miller Coors argues, because the corn syrup is evaporated in the beer-making process. So, despite "corn syrup" being on the ingredients list on the can, consumers enjoying Coors Light's refreshing taste are not, in fact, drinking corn syrup. In addition, Coors Light does not use high fructose corn syrup, the oft-maligned sweetener in soft drinks. The corn syrup is used in fermentation, not to sweeten. Any advertisement by Bud Light implying otherwise is misleading.

Stand Up for Yourself, Coors Light

The district court issued three orders on the matter, amending its original order twice. This, unsurprisingly, led to some procedural issues. But the Seventh Circuit did not take long to resolve the merits of the lawsuit. Judge Easterbrook, writing for the unanimous panel, noted that Anheuser-Busch never claimed that Coors Light contains high fructose corn syrup. Further, it is not false or misleading to say something about a competitor “that the rival says about itself." Finally, “[i]f Molson Coors does not like the sneering tone of Anheuser-Busch's ads, it can mock Bud Light in return."

In other words, tough it out, Coors Light, and fight back. Judge Easterbrook says as much, writing that “litigation is not a substitute for competition in the market" and “you have to stand up to bullies."

Okay, the last quote was only implied in the opinion.

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