Archive for the ‘malt beverage’ Category
Not The Onion. California Man, “Beer Aficionado,” Alleges He is Last to Know Blue Moon is Coors and Not a Real Craft Beer. Sues.
Yet another lawsuit about beverage labeling. This time it’s Blue Moon beer. The class action lawsuit (Parent v. MillerCoors LLC) was filed April 24, 2015 in state court, in San Diego. It alleges that MillerCoors is tricking consumers about whether Blue Moon is craft beer.
There are now literally dozens of class action lawsuits, filed all around the country in just the past couple of years, in state and federal courts, against many of the most popular beer and spirits products in the country. Wine is notably absent, so far.
The complaint alleges that MillerCoors:
- makes more than 2.4 billion gallons of beer a year — about 12 times what the prevailing Brewers Association definition, for a craft brewer, allows
- falsely portrays the product as “artfully crafted,” when in fact it’s a macrobrew
- hides the MillerCoors affiliation under various fake entities
- misleads consumers into paying up to 50% more, via omissions and misrepresentations
For good measure, the suit alleges:
Defendant’s business practices are immoral, unethical, oppressive, and unscrupulous, and cause substantial injury to consumers, including Plaintiff and the other members of the Class. As a direct and proximate result of Defendant’s unlawful business practices, Class members suffered injury in that they paid a premium price for a product that would not ordinarily command a premium price, or purchased a product they otherwise would not have purchased, absent Defendant’s misrepresentations and omissions.
Notice that the lawsuit does not really mention labeling, and instead focuses on “false and deceptive marketing.” Notice also that the labels at issue don’t mention “craft.” TTB has approved the Blue Moon labels something like 300 times since the 1995 brand launch. Here is one of the very few Blue Moon labels that actually mentions “craft” as in “artfully crafted.” It’s a bit strange that the slogan would be rampant in advertising but barely there on labels. Sometimes TTB’s beer reviewer is a bit on the strict side, but here the government has been fairly lax. In fact, in the early days, Coors described this U.S.-made beer as “Belgian” rather than “Belgian-Style.” The real Belgian beer companies put this to a stop with another lawsuit.
Plaintiff is remarkably astute about when he purchased Blue Moon, and the BA parameters, but had a weak spot in his discernment, even when his friends tried to give him a clue:
From 2011 until mid-2012, Plaintiff frequently purchased Blue Moon beer… . Relying on its advertising, its placement among other craft beers, and the premium price it commanded, Plaintiff, who is also a beer aficionado and home brewer, purchased Blue Moon believing it was a craft beer, as the term is commonly used by beer consumers and the Brewers Association. [Eventually] Plaintiff was informed by friends that Blue Moon is not a craft beer, but rather a mass produced beer made by MillerCoors. Plaintiff was initially skeptical, but eventually verified the facts through his own research. As a result, Plaintiff has not purchased Blue Moon since approximately July 2012.
No word yet about whether Plaintiff has switched to Shock Top.
The tide is rising: Tito’s, Templeton, Breckenridge, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Beck’s, Budweiser, Lime-A-Rita, Kirin, Skinnygirl, Tincup, Angel’s Envy, WhistlePig, and now Blue Moon. Google says Blue Moons come around every 2.7 years, but the suits are starting to pour in at a far faster rate.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The music is just right and sets a defiant tone.
- 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.
- 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.
I am thinking this may be the best label ever, about lawyers. If I am not mistaken, that is a garden-variety lawyer, right below “Welcome, Trademark Attorneys!” and right above the briefcase. The lawyer just happens to be wearing a pink shirt, white suit, and closely resembles a werewolf.
It all started when Clown Shoes beer company got label approval for a Vampire Slayer beer in 2011. It is important to note that this beer claims to be made with “holy water” and “vampire killing stakes.”
In short order, the company that controls various VAMPIRE-related trademarks, pounced, and pushed Clown Shoes to cease and desist from using VAMPIRE terminology. Here is an example of a recent label approval, for a wine marketed by the company that controls the VAMPIRE mark. Clown Shoes explains:
Vampire Brands and TI Beverage Group, connected companies out of California that primarily market vampire themed wine, were suing us. They came to market six months after Vampire Slayer began distribution with a beer made in Belgium called Vampire Pale Ale, but they filed a trademark application prior to our distribution. Their position was that our use of the name Vampire Slayer was harming their ability to sell Vampire Pale Ale, literally costing them money.
Clown Shoes was not amused, and expressed its dismay on the label above. In addition to the not-so-flattering imagery, the label also says: “Do we need the undead and trademark attorneys too? Clown Shoes says ‘No, Die Monsters, Die!’ Forces of darkness brought about a change in the name of this beer. …” Clown Shoes caved in because:
we felt that we stood an excellent chance of winning a court battle. Then we found out that litigation could cost between $300,000 to $400,000. … Ummmm… that sounds like stabbing ourselves in the face to cure foot pain. … A settlement, the terms of which I am not at liberty to disclose, was reached with [Vampire Brands] that licenses Clown Shoes to use the name Vampire Slayer. I can say that based on all factors, the Vampire Slayer name will soon be discontinued, despite the licensing agreement.
All of this just goes to show that nobody should mess with vampires, going into a trademark dispute without some protection, or the attorney at Vampire Brands. A good article about the dispute is here. Volokh has some other law-related labels here. And a good, recent, other lawyer-related label is right here.
Joe Sixpack this week has a good and thorough look at the many beer labels that talk about and tip a hat to their colleague, marijuana. The numbers and audacity are surely growing, as the old and antiquated laws fall by the wayside a bit. I like the quaint and funny reference to coats of arms:
With this month’s ballyhooed legalization of marijuana in Colorado, some beer makers are adding playful drug references to their brand names and labels, and regulators can do little to censor them.
Label oversight, a quirky if contentious area of federal alcohol law, has confounded breweries for years with often capricious standards that bear little on consumer protection.
Federal law, for example, oddly prohibits the use of coats of arms or wording that promises ‘pre-war strength,’ whatever that means.
Mr. Russell (aka Joe) also helped educate me that a safety meeting is not necessarily boring and dire:
Yes, there are limits. Dark Horse Brewing, in Michigan, lost its bid for Smells Like Weed IPA, though its hops, in fact, smell like pot. The name was later changed to Smells Like A Safety Meeting IPA. (A ‘safety meeting’ is slang for taking a break on the job to light up a doober.)
But expect to see fewer of those objections as more states move toward legalization.
Way back in mid-December of 2012 I would have considered this Shelton Brothers COLA to be, perhaps, an aberration. But upon checking it again, today, I see a few more COLAs with the same word — arguably in need of the fig leafs above.
It is hard to believe that the government did not see the word at issue. On the above-linked COLA it appears no less than three times. This may signal that, as social mores liberalize and budgets shrink, the government has bigger (or fewer) fish to fry. Clearly, it signals that Daniel Shelton does not mind pushing the envelope, or many. The Amherst College magazine unabashedly explains that, after graduating from Amherst, Shelton:
went to a prestigious law school … then clerked for a judge (on a tropical Pacific isle, of all places) and finally secured a position at a venerable firm in Washington, D.C. (but convinced Shea & Gardner that he needed to spend a year bumming around Africa before starting.) … “My Amherst education has not been wasted at all. I use it more in this business than I ever did in lawyering. I never was completely comfortable with the idea of being a lawyer, anyway.”
This creaky old regulation still prohibits any beer labeling that is “obscene or indecent.” At this rate, however, it is difficult or uncomfortable to imagine something that goes too far — or too far for Dan. Many thanks to Mark for showing me these labels.