What began as a marketing battle on Super Bowl Sunday between beer giants has turned litigious.
MillerCoors, owner of the Miller Light and Coors Light brands, is suing fellow beer conglomerate Anheuser-Busch, brewer of Budweiser, Bud Light and Busch Light.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in Wisconsin accuses Anheuser-Busch of launching a “false and misleading advertising campaign targeting Miller Lite and Coors Light in order to deceive beer consumers into believing that there is corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup in Miller Lite and Coors Light to increase sales of Bud Light.”
The brewer now is asking a federal court to order Anheuser-Busch not only to halt its ads but to launch a new campaign “to correct the false and misleading impressions” created by the original and ongoing effort.
The lawsuit said Anheuser-Busch spent more than “$13 million in media time to convey the message to nearly 100 million consumers during Super Bowl LIII alone – to
perpetuate the consumer confusion.”
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Citing the series of television commercials, digital advertising spots and responses received on social media platforms, the lawsuit also asks for compensation for damages.
“Anheuser-Busch is fearmongering over a common beer ingredient it uses in many of its own beers, as a fermentation aid that is not even present in the final product,” MillerCoors said in a statement. “This deliberate deception is bad for the entire beer category. We are showing the world the truth.”
But Anheuser-Busch isn’t backing down.
In a statement Thursday, the company said the Bud Light campaign “is truthful and intended to point out a key difference from Miller Lite and Coors Light. Those beers are brewed with corn syrup; Bud Light is not.”
“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,” Anheuser-Busch said. “MillerCoors’ lawsuit is baseless and will not deter Bud Light from providing consumers with the transparency they demand. We stand behind the Bud Light transparency campaign and have no plans to change the advertising.”
The lawsuit is another way of fighting this battle, Beer Marketer’s Insights Executive Editor Eric Shepard said.
“Competition has always been fierce in the U.S. beer industry, but it has usually not played out in federal courts,” Shepard said. “For MillerCoors, it’s a response and it’s an escalated response.”
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Contributing: Rick Romell, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Kelly Tyko, USA TODAY
Follow Aaron Calvin on Twitter: @aaronpcalvin.