Miller Goes To Court As A-B Returns To The Bayou

When both lizards and lawyers are involved, you know the fight is getting nasty.

The brawl between Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co. went to court and into the bayou last week. A-B brought back Louie the Lizard to mock Miller in TV and radio spots, while a federal judge in Milwaukee heard arguments from Miller to block A-B’s marketing tactics, in particular its claim that Miller is South African-owned.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman’s ruling had not been released by press time on Friday.

In its request for an injunction, Miller alleged that A-B distributors have placed stickers reading “Queen of Carbs” and “Owned by South African Breweries” on Miller products. Miller asked that its much larger rival stop making the South African-ownership claims in all of its marketing, noting that while it was sold by Philip Morris to South African Brewers in 2002, the new company, SABMiller, is based in London.

An A-B rep had no response at press time. In a statement from vp of brand management director Bob Lachky issued before Miller took the case to court, A-B explained its tough stance by saying: “We have learned that consumers are very interested in the fact that Miller Lite and all Miller brands are owned by a South African company.”

Meanwhile, after a nearly four-year hiatus from TV, Budweiser’s wise-cracking lizards returned to radio and TV last week in spots from Omnicom’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. Louie and Frank take on Wieden + Kennedy’s “Miller for President” series, escalating the ad spat to new acerbic heights.

One radio ad compares Miller’s pitchman to a horse’s ass. The spot, which does not cite Miller by name, opens with the lizards discussing the election, saying it’s “gettin’ ugly” and that there’s “an out-of-work comedian running against a horse.” (In the Miller spots, the brand’s candidate, played by comedian Bob Odenkirk, runs against a Clydesdale.) The lizards deem the A-B mascot “unbeatable” because, among other things, the animal “looks more presidential.”

“Did you see the debate?” Louie asks. “The horse doesn’t say a word, and he comes off smarter than the comedian.” The spot ends with him saying, “In a choice between a horse and a guy who’s only part of a horse, gimme the horse anyday.”

In a similar TV spot, a lizard asks, “Who would you rather have for president, an irritating spokesperson or a majestic Clydesdale who is symbolic of warm holiday fun?” The scene cuts from the swamp to a shot of the Clydesdales prancing through the snow.

A second TV spot has Louie telling Frank that Miller has to drop out of the presidential race because the company was bought by a South African brewery. He quips that the former candidate will star in a new reality show called Shoes and Socks. “Oh, he should go far with that,” Franks responds.

A-B’s ad response to Miller was laid out in a directive from chairman August Busch III, one source said. The first step was to take on Miller Lite’s low-carb claims with mock infomercial spots from Omnicom’s Downtown Partners in Toronto that show ridiculous workout gizmos, such as a treadmill for fingers.

The tone got more direct earlier this month when Cannonball in St. Louis created print ads dubbing Miller Lite the “Queen of Carbs” and raising the South African-ownership issue.

“Desperate, desperate, desperate,” said Beverage Distribution Consultants’ Mark Rodman of A-B’s ads. “The only thing I can compare it to is an 800-pound gorilla who looks down and finds a bunch of red ants crawling up his leg.”