MillerCoors has claimed a partial legal victory in its attempt to get Bud Light to stop its campaign that mocks Miller Lite and Coors Light for using corn syrup.
A federal judge denied Anheuser-Busch InBev’s move to dismiss the false advertising suit, while ordering the brewer to stop using certain language in some of the ads. The decision, released Friday evening, amounts to a partial preliminary injunction that stops short of halting the campaign entirely as the lawsuit proceeds.
The battle, dubbed “Corngate,” began when Bud Light ran three Super Bowl ads as part of its ongoing medieval campaign that called out Coors Light and Miller Lite for using corn syrup.
Miller Lite and Coors Light both use corn syrup during the fermenting process, but MillerCoors says none of it ends up in the final product. MillerCoors filed its lawsuit in March in a federal court in Wisconsin. The brewer accused its competitor of attempting to deceive drinkers into thinking Miller Lite and Coors Light contain corn syrup and the often-demonized high-fructose corn syrup sweetener in the finished products.
Friday’s order, issued by U.S. District Judge William Conley, found that the three Super Bowl ads, which have aired hundreds of times since the February game, did not contain misleading information.
However, the judge took issue with several subsequent ads that come closer to suggesting that corn syrup is MillerCoors’ final products, rather than simply used during the brewing process.
These ads “cross the line from simply being susceptible to misunderstanding to being misleading,” the ruling states. The ads include billboards and print ads stating that Bud Light has “100% less corn syrup” than Miller Lite and Coors Light. The judge also took issue with two TV commercials. One of the ads debuted during the Oscars and includes a scene showing a Miller Lite and the words “corn syrup.”
The ruling bars AB InBev from running the ads in their current form effective 10 days from the May 25 order.
“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,” MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley said in a statement. “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.”
AB InBev also attempted to out a positive spin on the ruling, pointing to the fact that its Super Bowl ads can still run as is. It plans to run one of the ads this weekend. The ruling is "a victory for consumers as it allows Bud Light’s Super Bowl advertising to continue," the brewer said in a statement. "As the number one selling beer in the U.S., 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.”