KANSAS CITY — A partial decision and a denial for dismissal were issued May 24 by District Judge William M. Conley in MillerCoors, L.L.C., versus Anheuser-Busch Companies, L.L.C., with both sides claiming some degree of victory.
The case involves Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light ad campaign that noted the use of corn syrup by MillerCoors in brewing Coors Light and Miller Lite in commercials that initially aired Feb. 3 during Super Bowl LIII, along with certain later advertising. The Super Bowl ads generated significant pro and con traffic on social media and drew the ire of corn producers and the corn sweetener industry.
MillerCoors filed its lawsuit on March 21 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, claiming false and misleading claims and misuse of Miller and Coors trademarks in a Bud Light Super Bowl commercial and in part sought an injunction to stop Anheuser-Busch from running the Bud Light ad. Anheuser-Busch subsequently filed a motion for dismissal of MillerCoors’ lawsuit. The court heard oral arguments on the motion to dismiss on May 16.
Judge Conley denied defendant Anheuser-Busch’s motion to dismiss, which he said “strikes the court as a shot across the bow in response to plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction.”
Concerning MillerCoors’ request for preliminary injunction, Judge Conley said, “the court will grant plaintiff a preliminary injunction, though more narrow in scope than that sought by plaintiff.” He “granted in part and denied in part” MillerCoors’ motion. Judge Conley enjoined defendant Anheuser-Busch from using certain language within 10 days of his order in commercials, print advertising and social media. The enjoined language as stated in the court document include:
- Bud Light contains “100% less corn syrup;”
- Bud Light in direct reference to “no corn syrup” without any reference to “brewed with,” “made with” or “uses;”
- 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.
MillerCoors indicated it was pleased with the judge’s ruling “that will force Anheuser-Busch to change or remove advertisements that were clearly designed to mislead the American public,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Judge Conley said the Super Bowl commercials did not contain misleading information, but he took issue with subsequent commercials that appeared to suggest corn syrup was in MillerCoors’ final product, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. He said Anheuser-Busch had hoped to exploit confusion around the use of corn syrup in beer production, and “consumers would interpret advertising statements about ‘made with corn syrup’ or ‘brewed with corn syrup’ as corn syrup actually being in the final products.”
Anheuser-Busch said it will resume airing the original commercial from the Super Bowl based on the court’s ruling, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Yesterday’s ruling is a victory for consumers as it allows Bud Light’s Super Bowl advertising to continue,” said Cesar Vargas, vice-president of legal and corporate affairs at Anheuser-Busch. “As the No. 1 selling beer in the United States, Bud Light remains committed to leading the alcohol industry by providing more transparency for consumers, including letting them know about the ingredients that are used to brew their beer.”
The judge declined to include a decision on certain depictions and language on Anheuser-Busch packaging materials because the argument was not advanced in MillerCoors’ written preliminary injunction submissions. He gave MillerCoors until June 3 to file a supplementary brief on the packaging issue, with Anheuser-Busch having until June 10 to respond. Further documents were to be filed with the court by June 10 and June 17.