Ad regulator weighs in on beer taste, siding with Miller Lite over Bud Light

AB InBev had challenged a MillerCoors taste test

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How a beer tastes is subject to the whims of individual consumers. Some people like hoppy, heavy beer, while others prefer more watery, lighter brews. But as bolder craft beers became the rage in recent years, big brewers were left battling the perception that their biggest brands, which are light beers, all taste the same.

MillerCoors' answer to this problem was a good old fashioned taste test pitting Miller Lite against two Anheuser Busch InBev brands, Bud Light and Michelob Ultra. And voila, Miller Lite has more taste—according to the brewer, which touted the self-serving results as part of a campaign called "Know Your Beer" that boasted that Lite has "more taste" than its two competitors.

Miller Lite is smaller than Bud Light. And anytime the challenger brand goes after the bigger guy, the goal is often to get the larger foe to respond. AB InBev took the bait, filing a complaint about the campaign with the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau. This week, the NAD handed a victory to Miller Lite, ruling that "MillerCoors provided a reasonable basis for its claim that Miller Lite has 'more taste' than Bud Light and Michelob Ultra."

The blind taste test on which the claim was based was carried out by a research consulting firm called the Institute for Perception. It found that 65 percent of consumers chose Miller Lite as having more taste than Bud Light. NAD ruled that the test "used reasonable protocols and provided a reasonable basis" for the more taste claim.

The decision allows Miller Lite to gloat—which it did in a corporate blog post. But perhaps more importantly, it brings additional attention to a campaign that most drinkers have probably forgotten, if they even noticed it in the first place. "We are pleased with the ruling, and we're not surprised that the NAD found we provided a reasonable basis that Miller Lite has more taste than Bud Light and Michelob Ultra," MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley stated in the blog post. "A majority of consumers who try these beers side-by-side know that to be the case as well."

It was not a complete win, however. The NAD took issue with the how the "Know Your Beer" campaign touted the results, which included stunts like taking the taste test on the road to places like St. Louis, the birthplace of Anheuser Busch.

The tests led to specific claims such as more people in St. Louis say Miller Lite has more taste. But these versions of the tests "did not comply with accepted protocol requirements for preference taste testing such as double blinding, a geographically representative sample size and similarly purchased products," the NAD ruled.

MillerCoors admitted to the NAD that this part of the campaign was "not a scientific taste test but a fun promotional campaign." The brewer voluntarily agreed to pull the parts of the campaign in question, which included digital vignettes and influencer videos.

This allowed for the following spin from an AB InBev spokesman: "Anheuser-Busch appreciates NAD's thoughtful analysis. We are encouraged by its finding that Miller Lite's 'Know Your Beer' campaign, in all forms, misrepresented itself as an unbiased taste test, conveying a consumer preference for its beer that was entirely unsupported by fact."

But Hattersley gets the last laugh, saying in the MillerCoors blog post that while the brewer will adjust the campaign to comply the NAD's recommendations, it will continue. "We know it's helping distinguish Miller Lite, and obviously garnering the attention of our competitors as well," he stated.

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