Judge Puts Some Limits on A-B Ads

CHICAGO A federal judge late last Friday ordered Anheuser-Busch to stop referring to Miller Brewing as “owned by South African Breweries” in advertising.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, however, allowed-A-B to continue stating that Miller was “purchased by South African Breweries” and is “South African owned” in its ads.

The judge’s temporary preliminary injunction affected some A-B point-of-purchase materials, but allowed TV and radio spots featuring Louie the Lizard that broke last week to continue to air.

The ruling was in response to Miller’s request for an injunction against any A-B marketing materials that make what Miller considers false references to its ownership. Miller was purchased by South African Breweries, but the company created by the deal, SABMiller, is based in London.

The injunction issued on Friday is temporary, pending further arguments on the matter at a date to be set. The judge on June 29 will hear Miller’s arguments to prevent A-B from calling Miller Lite the “Queen of Carbs,” which Miller argues is misleading and denigrating.

In ruling, Adelman said that the statement Miller is “owned by South African Breweries” is “literally false.” She also said there is a “a likelihood of consumer deception based on this claim,” and that Miller’s belief that it could be harmed by the ads “is reasonable, given that Memorial Day is a patriotic holiday, that memorial day weekend is significant in terms of beer sales.”

However, Adeleman said the statement that Miller was purchased by South African breweries is true. The judge said he didn’t have enough evidence in front of him to prevent A-B from labeling Miller as “South African owned.”

“The parties dispute what is required to prove ownership in this particular context, and I think that it’s not entirely clear what the standard is, or should be,” the judge said. She said she would consider further evidence on the issue.
Both breweries claimed satisfaction with the ruling, with Miller general counsel Mike Jones adding in a statement, “We look forward to pursuing broader issues in the normal trial process.”

“We are pleased the judge agreed with the substance of our message,” said Francine Katz, vice president of communications and consumer affairs for A-B, in a statement. “While the judge’s order does not permit us to say ‘Miller is owned by South African Breweries,’ we view that as a technicality having to do with the company’s legal corporate name. That phrase appeared only in a limited number of retail marketing materials and will be easily replaced.”