Bud Light was ordered by a Wisconsin federal judge Wednesday to stop using the label “No Corn Syrup” on its packaging, the latest legal salvo in an ongoing advertising war with Miller Lite and Coors Light.
The ruling extends a May injunction barring Bud Light from running certain TV, billboard and print advertising that suggested Miller Lite and Coors light contained corn syrup in their finished products. Chicago-based MillerCoors sued Bud Light brewer Anheuser-Busch over the advertising campaign, which it said was misleading consumers and hurting beer sales.
“Today’s ruling is another victory for MillerCoors, but more importantly it is another victory for the American public against deceptive advertising like Bud Light’s,” MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley said in a news release. “Bud Light’s campaign was bad for the public, bad for the industry and against the law.”
Anheuser-Busch has until March to run through its current supply of “No Corn Syrup” labeling, which appears prominently on cases, 12-packs and six-packs of Bud Light. While the Bud Light packages don’t directly name Miller Lite and Coors Light, after seven months of attack ads and legal squabbling, the intended target of the message was clear.
“A substantial segment of consumers would infer that Bud Light’s principal competitors contain corn syrup, especially after a hundred million dollar television and print campaign misleadingly suggesting the same thing,” the judge’s order said.
Bud Light started the Corn Syrup War with a TV commercial during February’s Super Bowl broadcast, where their mythical medieval king leads a quest to return corn syrup mistakenly delivered to his castle to Miller Lite and Coors Light.
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In response, MillerCoors pulled out of a long-planned industry advertising collaboration with Anheuser-Busch and defended its use of corn syrup as a fermenting sugar, which is broken down in the brewing process. It does not add high fructose corn syrup to its finished product, which some consumers avoid as a potential health risk, the company said.
MillerCoors then went on the advertising offensive, parodying Bud Light’s medieval kingdom with ads during March Madness TV broadcasts of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Several days after those ads first aired, MillerCoors sued Anheuser-Busch, looking to “set the record straight” regarding its use of corn syrup.
Anheuser-Busch remains unapologetic, vowing to continue to make its case — in court and to the public — despite Wednesday’s ruling.
“Bud Light is brewed with no corn syrup — plain and simple,” Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman Jennifer Morris said in an emailed statement. “We look forward to defending our right to inform beer drinkers of this fact at trial and on appeal. MillerCoors is resisting consumer demands for transparency in the ingredients used to brew its beers, but those demands are here to stay. We will continue leading this movement in the beer industry.”
Meanwhile, the original Bud Light corn syrup Super Bowl ad, which was not barred by the federal judge, remains on the air, Anheuser-Busch said.