- MillerCoors today (March 21) filed a lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch InBev alleging that the rival brewer's Bud Light Super Bowl commercial included false and misleading claims related to MillerCoor's use of corn syrup, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Wisconsin.
- MillerCoors believes it's being unfairly targeted by its chief competitor. Through focus groups, it found that consumers don't know the difference between corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, an ingredient more often labeled as unhealthy, according to CNBC. MillerCoors argues that Bud Light's ad aims to deliberately confuse and "frighten" viewers. The lawsuit also cites misuse of the Miller and Coors trademarks, which appear in the Bud Light creative, and requests a judge to order Bud Light to stop running the ad and give MillerCoors any profits it earned from the campaign.
- In the complaint, Chicago-based MillerCoors additionally noted that AB InBev placed billboards across its hometown of St. Louis and other cities that read, "Bud Light: 100 percent less corn syrup than Coors Light." MillerCoors said that corn syrup is not actually in Miller Lite and Coors Light, and isn't involved in their brewing beyond the fermentation process, the Post-Dispatch said.
With the filing of a federal lawsuit, MillerCoors is significantly escalating a fierce battle with AB InBev, including by pushing for a jury trial and for its competitor to pay its legal fees, per CNBC. The tension between the two brewers has steadily risen since Bud Light's Super Bowl campaign debuted in February and almost immediately garnered backlash from MillerCoors and the National Corn Growers Association for billing corn syrup as an undesirable ingredient. The dust-up led to the coining of the phrase "Corntroversy" and serious debate about the differentiating factors between corn syrup, which is fairly common in beer brewing, and high fructose corn syrup, which dietitians have linked to obesity.
Most of the barbs between AB InBev and MillerCoors have previously manifested in increasingly sour marketing and executive statements, while the latest batch of news takes the rivalry to the courts — a fairly rare occurrence, even between closely competitive companies. Directly following the Super Bowl, MillerCoors took out a full-page ad in The New York Times and used social media to push back against Bud Light and point out that some AB InBev products use high fructose corn syrup.
Then, earlier this week, Miller Lite launched a series of "competitive" ads around March Madness that offer a "director's cut" take on one of Bud Light's other Super Bowl commercials. In response, Bud Light called for its rival to commit to transparent labeling and released its own ad. The new batch of Miller Lite ads is interesting in retrospect, as it includes recognizable Bud Light imagery and brand characters, like the Bud Knight, while MillerCoors is now alleging Bud Light misused the Miller and Coors trademarks in its lawsuit.
The spat evolving into a legal issue essentially confirms that a reported beer alliance being formed among the two brewers, along with Constellation Brands, is on the skids. The Wall Street Journal first reported in February that the collaboration was put at risk following Bud Light's Super Bowl campaign. The ads spurred MillerCoors to withdraw from a meeting scheduled for this month, per the Journal. The alliance aimed to launch a brand-agnostic, extensive marketing campaign to help revitalize consumer interest in beer, which has slid amid a shift in preferences toward wines, spirits and other alcoholic beverages.