Yes, Beer Companies Are Still Fighting About that Corn Syrup Super Bowl Commercial in Court
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Super Bowl feels like a lifetime ago. The NFL is certainly looking forward: worried whether they’ll be able to start the football season on time. And yet, two beer giants are still bickering over something that happened back during the previous Super Bowl over a year ago: Yes, the “Corntroversy” between Bud Light and Miller Lite/Coors Light is still alive and well—and a court just made a new ruling in the case this past Friday.
A quick recap for those who see February 2019 as a distant memory: In a series of ads centered around Super Bowl LIII, Bud Light called out Miller Lite (and to a lesser extend Coors Light, which is also owned by Molson Coors—formerly MillerCoors—in the U.S.) for using corn syrup in their brewing process. This despite corn syrup not really being that controversial of an ingredient in the first place. Molson Coors sued Bud Light owner Anheuser-Busch over the allegedly misleading campaign, and when a judge first chimed in last May, both sides claimed victory after the ruling axed some ads while allowing others to continue.
Now, the Corntroversy has another twist—with a ruling that almost sounds like a silly Super Bowl beer ad itself: A three-judge panel from the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the case’s most recent ruling which prevented Bud Light from making corn syrup claims. The court’s reasoning: “If Molson Coors does not like the sneering tone of Anheuser-Busch’s ads, it can mock Bud Light in return,” the judges were quoted as saying by the Associated Press. If that’s not the legal equivalent of “Dilly Dilly,” I don’t know what is.
In all seriousness, Molson Coors’ case does hinge on a difficult debate: Are Bud Light’s claims that it uses “no corn syrup” intentionally misleading to consumers, despite the fact that they are, in essence, true? An analogy would be that if one major cola brand advertised as “the cola without rat poison,” does that not imply that other major cola brands are made with rat poison despite being true? With a more dramatic example like that one, Molson Coors’ argument holds a bit more weight.
Still, in the end, the judges seemed to view “corn syrup” as something that shouldn’t be so “corntroversial” in the first place. The court reportedly stated that it “is for consumers rather than the judiciary to decide” whether corn syrup is good or not, and that “Litigation should not be a substitute for competition in the market.”
Meanwhile, the Corntroversy doesn’t yet appear over. In a statement to the AP, Molson Coors said they were “exploring our options.” One can only assume that, beyond Molson Coors’ lawyers, the brewer’s most sneering ad copywriters are also at the ready.