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The Truth Is in the Syrup: Bud Light Ordered to Remove ‘No Corn Syrup’ from Packaging in False Advertising Battle

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By Shalayne Pillar and David G. Barker

The U.S. District Court, District of Wisconsin, recently ordered Anheuser-Busch to stop using the label “No Corn Syrup” on its packaging, the latest ruling in a false advertising battle filed over Anheuser-Busch’s attack ads aimed at rival MillerCoors.

The case involves Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light ad campaign that highlighted MillerCoors’s use of corn syrup in brewing Coors Light and Miller Lite.  Anheuser-Busch’s claims are (technically) true: MillerCoors does use corn syrup as a “fermentation aid” during the brewing process, while Bud Light does not.  Nevertheless, MillerCoors sued Anheuser-Busch for false advertising, claiming the ads mislead consumers by falsely implying the controversial sweetener is an actual ingredient in the final product.

The court agreed and issued a preliminary injunction earlier this year barring Anheuser-Busch from claiming that corn syrup is actually “in” Miller Lite and Coors Light.  But the company could continue running ads that claimed the beers are “brewed with” or “made with” the substance.  The court held that statements that Bud Light contains “100% less corn syrup” than Miller Lite or Coors Light, and that Bud Light contains “no corn syrup,” support a “reasonable interpretation” that Miller Lite and Coors Light contain corn syrup.  As such—even though the statements were “literally true”—the ad was likely to mislead consumers and constitute deceptive advertising under the Lanham Act.

September’s ruling extends this injunction, which originally applied to television, billboard, and print advertising, to cover Anheuser-Busch’s packaging.