The two heavyweights of the beer industry are going to war over cans.
Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), the brewer of Budweiser and Bud Light, didn't like the latest ads for Coors Light, which is marketed by rival MillerCoors (TAP). Those ads emphasize the various bells and whistles that have been added to its "silver bullet" cans, including mountains that turn blue when the can is cold, and additional indicators that give a more exact estimate of its coldness. The ads also tout the two vents surrounding the mouth of the can, which are intended to provide a smoother drinking experience, and the "Frost Brew Liner," which supposedly keeps the contents cold.
The ads present these innovations as a triumph of science and technology, and A-B InBev found that a bit misleading. So it filed a complaint with the National Advertising Division, a self-regulatory arm of the ad industry that's run by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. When MillerCoors declined to participate in those proceedings, the NAD passed the claims along to an organization with more teeth: The Federal Trade Commission.
In its only statements on the matter, MillerCoors has denied all wrongdoing. It told AdAge that "All of the statements regarding the can either clearly are intended as acceptable marketing puffery or have been proven through extensive testing as accurate."
In other words: Everything we say in our ads is true, except for the stuff that's clearly not true, but we're not going to state for the record which is which.
We reached out to MillerCoors to clarify what's accurate and what's puffery, but haven't heard back.
To be fair, though, when you watch the ad, at least some of what the company means when it refers to "puffery" becomes apparent -- no one really should believe that the can was designed in a glass room by huge robot arms, and the scientist's narration is deliberately overwrought ("will eliminate oppressive heat around the world!" he declares to a skeptical colleague). Coors Light tends to engage in this sort of "puffery" all the time, running ads that suggest that the beers are dug out of a frozen mountain and delivered to bars through some sort of magical beer chest.
As for the features of the cans themselves, the ad doesn't really say anything that's clearly counterfactual. While we're not sure if the "Frost Brew Liner" really insulates the can more than the usual aluminum, the mountains really do turn blue when it's cold. And it stands to reason that a wider mouth with vents would allow the liquid to escape more quickly. Meanwhile, the tagline -- "The World's Most Refreshing Can" -- is a subjective statement, since you can't really measure how refreshing something is (nor can you consume the actual can).
We'll see what (if anything) the FTC has to say on the matter, but we wouldn't be surprised if the ad campaign is ultimately exonerated of wrongdoing. And whatever the outcome, we hope the two brewers will stop spending so much time on marketing gimmicks, and start focusing more on the beer inside the cans.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.