VODKA AD BATTLE GOES TO FEDERAL COURT

Belvedere Sues Grey Goose Over 'Misleading' Ad Claims

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- The escalating battle between two vodka brands has now become a federal case.

Millennium Import Co., importers of Belvedere vodka, said it filed a lawsuit Aug. 28 against Sidney Frank Importing, which distributes Grey Goose vodka, for false advertising, consumer fraud and trade libel.

Blocking ad campaign
In addition to the lawsuit, filed in

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the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, Millennium also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop Sidney Frank's current Grey Goose ad campaign. Millennium claims the print ads, which refer to Grey Goose as "Rated the No. 1 Tasting Vodka in the World," use outdated taste-test scores for Belvedere. The distiller said Belvedere has fared better in more recent tests, but Sidney Frank refuses to use those scores.

An about-face
The move is an about-face for Millennium, which last week asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to step in after Sidney Frank defied a National Advertising Review Board ruling to pull the Grey Goose ads. At the time, Steve Gill, Millennium's president, said he would let the government process take its course.

A year ago, Millennium took its case to the National Advertising Division to mediate with Sidney Frank and avoid litigation, and the NAD ruled in Millennium's favor. Sidney Frank appealed that decision to the NARB, which upheld the NAD ruling that Grey Goose advertising was "inaccurate and misleading" to consumers.

Lost revenue claims
"We have been damaged by these deceptive and misleading ads because [Sidney Frank has] misled consumers into thinking [Grey Goose] is the best-tasting vodka in the world and [Belvedere is] an inferior vodka, which is not the case," Mr. Gill told Adage.com. "We intend to prove in a court of law that [Sidney Frank] has misled consumers ... and garnered revenue which has been gained based on deception."

He wouldn't provide any numbers, but said the company will attempt to show that Grey Goose has taken share and sales from Belvedere by using the outdated test scores in ads.

'Court of public opinion'
Bill Presi, chief legal counsel for Sidney Frank, said the importer "is disappointed that Millenium has chosen to litigate instead of relying on the court of public opinion. We firmly believe the NAD and NARB decisions were legally incorrect" and that the lawsuit will be dismissed.

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