Bud Light Accused Of Telling The Truth.

You may remember this series of commercials around the time of the 2019 Super Bowl where Bud Light claimed that two other beers Miller Light and Coors Light were brewed using corn syrup.

(We apologize for the quality of the video. The good ones we found all required that people sign in to YouTube, presumably because the ad promotes a product that can only be consumed by people over the age of 21. This seems silly to us as the ad appeared on TV during the Super Bowl when millions of people of all ages were watching, but we don’t make up the rules when it comes to YouTube.)

This is where it gets interesting:

“Bud Light,” one such ad closes. “Brewed with no corn syrup.”

That is, by all accounts, a true statement. But it’s also one that helped spur MillerCoors, which brews (as its name implies) Miller Lite and Coors Light, to file a federal lawsuit in Wisconsin against Bud Light brewer Anheuser-Busch.

The Bud Light ad, court documents state, “claims that Miller Lite and Coors Light are ‘made with’ or ‘brewed with’ corn syrup.” All parties to the lawsuit agree that MillerCoors uses corn syrup as an ingredient in brewing both Miller Lite and Coors Light.

However, MillerCoors, with the support of farmers and farm groups that provide corn syrup claim that the ads are deceptive because when brewed, the actual beer doesn’t contain corn syrup. (Apparently, MillerCoors was okay with the statement that Bud Light is brewed with sugar, even though there is no actual sugar in the final product.)

Corn syrup, a glucose-based sugar, has become a much-derided food ingredient. That’s due to the fact it’s a type of sugar but, more so, to its relation to high fructose corn syrup (also known as HFCS, a sweeter mix of glucose and fructose). Indeed, MillerCoors claims Bud Light is using the relationship to “exploit or further misconceptions about corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup.”

The MillerCoors complaint also claims in part that Bud Light “fails to inform consumers” that Miller Lite and Coors Light don’t brew beer with HFCS and that when consumers buy Miller Lite or Coors Light, the products they buy contain no corn syrup.

The MillerCoors complaint centers on a deceptive-advertising claim under the federal Lanham Act. The basic premise underlying the Lanham Act’s application here is that if a company’s communications (advertising, marketing, packaging, and the like) intentionally mislead the public in such a way that harms that company’s competitor(s), then the competitor(s) may seek redress under the law.

A judge bought into the MillerCoors argument:

In May, U.S. District Court Judge William M. Conley granted some of what MillerCoors has sought. He issued a preliminary injunction that barred Budweiser from implying in its advertising that Miller Lite—as sold to consumers—contains corn syrup.

Now, in a brief order issued last week, Judge Conley has upped the ante, extending his injunction to Bud Light’s packaging, which has included the words “no corn syrup” printed on packaging and store displays.

“With this ruling, we are holding Bud Light accountable for their actions, and we will keep holding their feet to the fire every time they intentionally mislead the American public,” MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley said in a statement that was reported by The New York Times last week.

Think about this for a moment. Miller Light and Coors Light are brewed using corn syrup. That fact is not in dispute. Bud Light is not brewed with corn syrup. That too is not in dispute.

Yet a judge is telling a company they cannot state the truth.

That’s troubling on many levels to us.

When did speaking the truth become against the law?

From an business point of view, we understand MillerCoors’ concern. They are getting hurt by the truthful statements of BudLight and arguably they are getting hurt because of the ignorance of people who don’t understand the brewing process.

Ignorance is not BudLight’s problem. They have no duty or responsibility to educate people on the brewing process. They have a duty to make truthful statements in their advertising which they have done.

Anheuser-Busch, hardly cowed, immediately appealed the ruling and debuted two new ads. (here and here.)

“MillerCoors[] has publicly acknowledged that Miller Lite and Coors Light are both brewed with corn syrup,” a company spokesperson said in the wake of the ruling. “We publicly acknowledge that Bud Light is brewed with no corn syrup. These are simply the facts on which everyone agrees. Not only are we appealing this decision, we will continue providing consumers with the transparency they demand, including by informing beer drinkers that Bud Light is brewed with no corn syrup.”

When we see things like this, we often think of commercials for burgers from fast food places or sub sandwiches from sub joints that look so enticing and wonderful you want to get up and go to the place now. Yet you cannot find those advertised items within the stores. You won’t find anything that looks remotely like the advertisement – even ones that appear in the location itself. It is a practice called “puffery.”

Advertising or sales presentation relying on exaggerations, opinions, and superlatives, with little or no credible evidence to support its vague claims. Puffery may be tolerated to an extent so long as it does not amount to misrepresentation (false claim of possessing certain positive attributes or of not possessing certain negative attributes).

We have trouble understanding how “puffery” is somehow legal, but in this case true statements are somehow illegal according to the thinking of a judge.

There are two “bottom lines” to us.

First, we are talking about “light beer” which many consider to be only slightly above polluted water.

Secondly, somehow true statements have become illegal.

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