BUDWEISER LAUNCHES MAJOR AD OFFENSIVE AGAINST MILLER
Beer War Pits 'King of Beers' Against 'Queen of Carbs'
'Queen of Carbs'
Last week, in the latest round of an escalating marketing war for share in the light-beer category, Anheuser-Busch launched a major ad offensive for its Bud Light against Miller Lite. Full-page newspaper ads called the Miller product "Queen of Carbs" and charged that Miller was "South African Owned."
In response, Miller, a unit of London-based SABMiller, on May 26 filed suit that alleges Anheuser-Busch has "either authorized, encouraged or condoned" agents or employees to affix stickers advertising its beers on Miller Lite beer in retail outlets.
The suit, filed in a federal court in Wisconsin, also claims that Anheuser-Busch ads depicting Miller Lite as "Owned by South African Breweries" or as the "Queen of Carbs" are false. The suit seeks to enjoin Anheuser-Busch from continuing to use them.
Miller gains over Bud
Since late last year, the once-moribund Miller Lite has posted sales gains as Bud Light sales have slowed.
"Evidently sensing a loss in marketshare, Anheuser-Busch has reacted in a mean-spirited, disparaging and ultimately illegal manner," the suit says.
A spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch denies the company did anything illegal. She said that defacing competitors' products or sales materials is against company policy.
The suit claims Anheuser-Busch wholesalers or employees placed company ads onto or into Miller product packaging. The materials include 3-by-5-inch cards describing Lite as the "Queen of Carbs" and "owned by South African Breweries."
The suit identified markets where the alleged vandalism took place, including Richmond, Va., Charlotte, N.C., and California.
The Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman said, "We haven't seen any kind of confirmation" about such activity.
However, while denying knowledge of any defacing of Miller products, she said Anheuser-Busch has warned distributors against such actions in wake of the filing.
Sexist and homophobic
The suit also challenges Anheuser-Busch advertising that has portrayed Miller Lite as the "Queen of Carbs." Besides criticizing the ads as sexist and homophobic, the suit claims they position Lite as heavy in carbs. Miller Lite has about half the carbs of Bud Light.
The suit also claims that the charge "owned by South African Breweries" is literally false. Miller Brewing Co. is a wholly owned subsidiary of SABMiller. The predecessor of the current company, created when Philip Morris Cos. sold Miller in 2002, was known as South African Breweries.
"There is no legal entity named South African Breweries," the filing says. "Thus the claim that Miller Lite beer is 'Owned by South African Breweries' is literally false."
Noting the 2002 acquisition, the Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman said Anheuser-Busch is "confused" by the suit's claim.
The suit seeks unspecified damages and an injunction halting the marketing activities. Miller expects a ruing for a preliminary injunction by the end of day tomorrow, according to a memo the brewer sent to its distributors.
A Miller spokesman declined to elaborate.