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ARTAL: The Movie

First there was ARTAL the list. Then there was ARTAL the blog post. And now, there is ARTAL:  The Movie. In which Oli tries to help you remember the power and pitfalls of the big list of Allowable Revisions to Approved Labels. In brief, this should help you remember that you don’t need a new COLA every time you make a change to your already-approved label. There are dozens of small and not so small changes that are ok to make, without any need of a new COLA — or the wait, frustration, and expense.

Why on Earth Would Anyone Need a Lawyer to Help Get a COLA?

Ladies and gentlemen it is with great pleasure that I introduce Oli, the sporadically employed climate scientist, from Chichester. What does that have to do with labels and COLAs? Watch and see. Find out why some may benefit from having a small group of specialized lawyers and paralegals to help you get things moved through TTB and to the marketplace with less pain and delay.

A Great Bud Ad

What was the best beer ad, or ad of any type, in yesterday’s Super Bowl broadcast? Hint, it was a Bud ad, but not the one with the dogs, horses, and wolf. Instead, it was the one above. The one in which Bud took on its main competition, directly and powerfully, roughly like those on the field. It’s the first time in many years that Bud did not seem to be on the defensive. It seems clear that Bud’s plan is to defend Bud the brand such as above, and defend Bud the company by buying a bunch of esteemed craft brewers. Maybe they can have their cake and eat it too.

h3Before I scope out anyone else’s views, here are mine:

  1. The 60 second ad opens with a view of an old brewery with a big Budweiser sign and a small American flag atop it; the building is bathing in the sun and surrounded by trees and evokes old-time Americana within a couple seconds.
  2. Within five seconds, it says BUDWEISER, PROUDLY A MACRO BEER and shows lots of real and good looking ingredients, to go along with the pretty buildings way back at seconds 1 and 2.
  3. The ad takes dead aim at and skewers various hipsters such as the ones above. Hipster number 1 is perfect, with his mustachio, earnestness, believability, dancing eyebrows. The others are just as good, as they fumble and fawn over their wee glasses of beer, as much as is probably possible in the span of 2 seconds.
  4. The music is just right and sets a defiant tone.
  5. Lots of big machines, big horses and Bud’s history are packed into this ad; it yields nothing in terms of declaring the work that goes into making this beer great.
  6. It suggests those hipsters are phonies and don’t necessarily enjoy drinking beer as much as normal Bud consumers.

The ad is so good, and so expertly crafted that I can’t even think of any ways to try to refute or find fault with it. Now, having said that, I am eager to go to others to see what I missed in this ad that overflows with powerful imagery.

I was surprised to see Paste call it anti-craft rather than deftly pro-Bud. The article seems to say Bud spent $9 million to air it and I would not be surprised if it cost even more to produce it (or as much as an average movie of 90 times the duration). The Atlantic calls it the event’s riskiest ad and says it’s likely to appeal to those over but not under about 40. The LA Times points out that the ad touts that it’s for people who like to drink beer, but asks you to notice that “the ad doesn’t say the beer is for people who like to taste beer.” The article says most of the ad is on target and wraps up saying “Craft drinkers have dismissed macro beer and have been openly condescending to its fans for years; turnabout is certainly fair play.” Ad Age says, and I agree, the ad is notable for its swagger. The ad, by Anamoly, “marks the return of ‘This Bud’s For You,’ which has not been used in a significant way in Bud advertising since the late 1970s, according to the brewer.”

The debate still rages over whether Bud is good beer. But the debate is over about whether Bud can craft good ads.

Oak Aged Vodka

oak

TTB does not allow Aged Vodka, or Aged Gin. But this would seem to show it’s pretty easy to work around these arcane, antiquated restrictions. Note how the word “aged” is nowhere but everywhere on this label, and Absolut does not mind throwing in a reference to “craft” for good measure.

Tito Responds

tfp

Over the years many have suggested that Tito’s vodka is not really made in small batches or by hand. I tried to keep an open mind, as the brand grew, and even in the face of the lawsuits summarized here.

So I have been particularly looking forward to a response, on the merits, at long last, from the source. Tito finally responded, on November 17, 2014, in the form of a motion to dismiss the Florida case. (The defendants also filed a similar motion, a month later, in the California case. The California motion is 28 pages and substantially similar to the one filed in Florida, right down to mangling the name of the agency that issued the so-crucial approvals. It does add a dash of spice here:  “Plaintiff himself knows nothing, and he filed a lawsuit that ignores what the Tito’s label actually says and instead bases his claim on hearsay statements in a magazine article, hoping he can later commit discovery to get the facts he admittedly lacks.”)

With the aid of more than one big law firm, and a superior command of the facts, I was eager to sit back and see how deftly Tito could shut down its many detractors. The motion weighs in at 20 or so pages and it does not seem an exaggeration to say that the entire brand, the company, and just about everything on the front label hang in the balance. Also, Tito had the immense benefit that he knew or certainly should have known this day would come around sooner or later. This should have been clear since the first references to “handmade.” This should have been further clear upon the various inquiries about the term over the years, as described in the motion.

The motion starts pretty strong, asserting that plaintiff’s complaint is so vague:  “We do not know how many bottles they bought or how much they paid, because they do not tell us those facts. They do not claim there was anything wrong with the vodka they allegedly purchased, or that they did not like it for some reason. They do not claim they complained about it, tried to return it, or even notified anyone of their dissatisfaction … .” Then, “With so many details missing, Fifth Generation is not in a position to make a meaningful response to the Complaint (other than simply to deny the allegations). Nor is the Court in any position to assess whether all or any of the claims pass the plausibility standard. … Measured by those standards, the Complaint is woefully deficient and must be dismissed.”

This may be a good start, but by page 3, the motion seems to go off the rails. It tries to say that the plaintiffs could not have been deceived, because a 2013 Forbes article had already suggested Tito was playing fast and loose with the truth. Tito’s motion says:

In light of what Plaintiffs have pled – and in particular their reliance upon a widely-circulated 2013 Forbes magazine article – it is hard to see how they could plausibly claim they were misled by the label on Tito’s Handmade Vodka for any purchases made after the article was published. Similarly, the number of times they purchased may raise plausibility concerns: If they enjoyed the taste of the product and thought it was a good value, did the label truly influence any but their first purchase? And, if the first time they ever tasted Tito’s Handmade Vodka was at a party, at a restaurant, or in some other setting in which they decided they liked the taste before they ever saw the label, could the label plausibly be said to have influenced even their first purchase? Plaintiffs’ skeletal allegations raise all of these questions and more, but answer none of them.

The defendants seem impressed with this point, breaking out the bolded italics.

Maybe I am missing something fundamental, but this seems absurd as any kind of defense, let alone a cornerstone of a defense. Does it really make sense to assume the plaintiffs would, should, or did get key information about the product from a magazine article — instead of the big, federally mandated, reviewed and approved label plastered on the front of the bottle? The Forbes article is interesting, relevant, and important — but is it really so epochal that everyone interested in vodka should be intimately familiar with it, from the moment of its publication? On the very same page, the motion makes clear in any event that “Plaintiffs never claim that they saw or read the article.” The motion seems to be saying that even though the article is wrong, and low-quality, every yahoo from Texas to California to Florida should know all about it, from the moment of its publication. Perhaps Tito seeks to argue that the lead plaintiffs knew about the article before the purchases at issue, and that this should have caused them not to buy the vodka, or, at the very least, that it would make them not good representatives for the class.

Next, the motion veers over into shaking the pompoms, declaring Tito’s to be “great tasting” and with a value proposition “true to its Austin, Texas roots.” By page five, the motion tees it up beautifully, saying “Plaintiffs contend that Tito’s Handmade Vodka cannot be ‘handmade’ because it is ‘made from commercially manufactured neutral grain spirit that is trucked and pumped into Defendants’ industrial facility.'” This would seem to be the heart of the matter. And so I move to the edge of my seat, waiting for Tito to hit this duly teed-up softball out of the park. And then I wait some more, as the softball seems to sit on the tee, without the benefit of even a swing or a miss, let alone a base hit. Immediately after raising this tantalizing question, the motion changes the subject toward an unilluminating primer on how vodka is normally made.

The defense is a bit too romantic when it explains how the “secret,” “pre-Civil War” pot still methods somehow make the product handmade. And it moves in the other direction when it describes how Tito grasped a pen with his own hands to design the label:  “The label on Tito’s Handmade Vodka is also ‘handmade’ in its origins. The graphic of the old fashioned pot still was drawn by Tito Beveridge himself. He chose the fonts, the colors and the other elements of the label that communicate the consumers the essence of the brand.”

Tito makes a stronger point by explaining that TTB inspected Tito’s labels, plant and methods on many occasions, and still allowed the “handmade” claim. The defendants make quite a few other technical arguments and on some of those it’s hard to know who is right. And yet I find myself still waiting for the defendants to simply assert, at long last, that they do not bring in tankers of commodity spirits mass produced with continuous stills, far from Texas or the hands of anyone in Austin. Looks like we will need to keep waiting.

Finally, for all those who wrote in and said the label claims don’t matter and are only for nerds, please take another look at the label and web page depicted above. This is a screenshot of www.titosvodka.com as of January 4, 2015. I did not add any words or images but I did add a yellow tag near each of the most relevant spots; I emphasized the relevant portions and discarded a lot of the less relevant matter.

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