Miller-Budweiser Court Clash to Continue

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- In the latest round of the Miller-Budweiser advertising slugfest, a federal judge on Friday ordered Anheuser-Busch to pull point-of-sale ads containing disputed claims.
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Judge Lynn S. Adelman of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Wisconsin ordered Anheuser-Busch to cease using those ads that described competitor Miller Brewing Co.'s Miller Lite brand as "owned by South African companies."

'Unleash the Dawgs'
The ads were part of the Anheuser-Busch "Unleash the Dawgs" campaign launched before Memorial Day weekend. The effort was part of an overall struggle for market share in the light-beer market, where Miller Lite has racked up significant sales gains over Bud Light.

Miller sued for an injunction against the ad materials May 26. It also sued over alleged defacing of Miller Lite products and sought an injunction against Anheuser-Busch ads positioning Miller Lite as the "Queen of Carbs." Miller claimed the ads suggest Lite is heavy with carbohydrates.

The judge ordered the "owned by South African Breweries" materials to be pulled because they were literally false. Miller Brewing is a unit of SABMiller; South African Breweries was the name of the predecessor company that bought Miller from Philip Morris Cos. in 2002.

Ownership dispute
But the judge declined to issue an injunction against ads that described Miller Lite as "South African owned." While noting there was a dispute over how much of Miller is owned by South African investors, the judge said there wasn't enough "to show in this particular context that that statement is false." But she added: "I am not going to foreclose further proof on the issue or further submissions on the issue."

The judge didn't take action on the defacing issue, noting that Anheuser-Busch, without making any admissions, agreed to send a "strongly worded communication to all its distributors ... making it clear that any previous activity of this type should stop."

The judge left open the possibility that Miller could receive damages for any defacing activity.

'Queen of Carbs' hearing
A hearing on the "Queen of Carbs" description, which was not discussed at Friday's hearing, will be held June 29.

The judge also declined to issue an injunction against Anheuser-Busch ads featuring the lizards Louie and Frankie that said Miller had been bought by a South African company.

Both sides claimed victory.

"While the judge asked us to refrain from saying that Miller is owned by South African Breweries, we view this as a hyper-technical difference resulting from the fact that Miller's holding company is SABMiller plc, which is registered in the U.K.," Anheuser-Busch said in a release that started with the words "We won."

In a statement, Miller's general counsel, Mike Jones, said, "We are pleased that the court found Anheuser-Busch's advertising to be false and deceptive and ordered them to immediately remove the relevant materials from the marketplace."

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