Late Friday evening federal judge William Conley of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled in favor of MillerCoors on key elements of the brewer’s request for a preliminary injunction in its lawsuit against Anheuser Busch, which argued a Bud Light ad campaign deliberately deceived the public. The federal court also denied Anheuser Busch’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
The new federal ruling bars Anheuser Busch from using specific language featured prominently during the recent ad campaign in any future commercials, print advertising or social media. Specifically, within 10 days of the ruling Anheuser Busch is barred from:
- Saying Bud Light contains “100% less corn syrup”;
- Referencing Bud Light and “no corn syrup” without any reference to “brewed with,” “made with” or “uses”;
- Referencing Miller Lite and/or Coors Light and “corn syrup” without including any reference to “brewed with,” “made with” or “uses”; and
- Describing “corn syrup” as an ingredient “in” the finished product.
“We are pleased with today’s ruling that will force Anheuser Busch to change or remove advertisements that were clearly designed to mislead the American public,” said MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley. “As the dominant market leader, Anheuser Busch should be seeking to grow the beer category, not destroy it through deceptive advertising. Their campaign is bad for the public, bad for the beer industry and against the law. We are happy to hold them accountable for it, and we look forward to the next steps in this case.”
The judge deferred ruling on whether the existing Bud Light packaging, which proclaims the beer has “no corn syrup,” will have to be removed from stores. The two parties will brief the court on their views in that aspect in the coming weeks.
Notable quotes from the federal ruling (which is attached in full):
- “The court finds that plaintiff’s (MillerCoors) evidence is sufficient to support a finding at the preliminary injunction stage that it has some likelihood of success of proving defendant’s advertisements deceived or have the tendency to deceive a substantial segment of consumers to believe that Miller Lite and Coors Light actually contain corn syrup.” (page 43)
- “Plaintiff’s (MillerCoors) strongest evidence is the defendant’s (Anheuser Busch) own statements indicating that in launching this campaign, it was aware of and intended to exploit consumer concerns about corn syrup… these statements support a finding that defendant was aware of consumer concerns about the likelihood of confusion surrounding corn syrup and HFCS, and that the defendant hoped consumers would interpret advertising statements about “made with corn syrup” or “brewed with corn syrup” as corn syrup actually being in the final products.” (page 35-36)
- In reference to the most recent Bud Light commercial from the campaign, released on March 20, 2019, “the court also concludes that plaintiff (MillerCoors) is likely to succeed in demonstrating that this language is misleading because it crosses the line to encourage a reasonable consumer to believe corn syrup is actually contained in the final product.” (page 35)
- “There is no meaningful difference between using rice or corn syrup as an ingredient in terms of health or safety of the resulting beer product.” (page 4)