MILWAUKEE — It's a flap over a cap.
An ad industry watchdog wants MillerCoors to modify its claims about flagship Miller Lite because it hasn't made changes as the ads imply.
It's a basic marketing tactic to tout a product attribute, especially if it's new, to increase shoppers' interest.
In this case, MillerCoors started advertising flagship Miller Lite's "Taste Protector" caps and lids last summer. But MillerCoors acknowledges the tops don't use new technology so its ads can't imply they do, the National Advertising Division Council of Better Business Bureaus said Wednesday.
The industry body, known as NAD, looked into the matter after beer-making rival Anheuser-Busch Inc. complained. Many of its inquiries start with complaints by rivals.
MillerCoors has been saying the new golden tops and lids on Miller Lite, which has been in a sales slump, have a special seal that "locks out air and locks in that Great Pilsner Taste."
NAD said in its nonbinding decision that MillerCoors should stop referring to a "special seal" and not imply the product has changed.
"While advertisers can change marketing strategies to promote the different features of their product, they must do so truthfully to avoid any potential overstatement or consumer confusion," the board said.
In highlighting aspects of their products, companies can't mislead, said Doug Stayman, associate dean of MBA programs at Cornell University's Johnson School of Management.
"There's a tremendous amount of pressure on them to come out with something new and different," he said. "And there's a fine line. But this seems to be over it."
MillerCoors said it will take the ruling into consideration for future advertisements. It was pleased NAD agreed it could use "Taste Protector" statements but disagreed with objections to the word "special" — although it's been removed from packaging.
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MillerCoors argued it was pointing out a benefit that its product had long offered, but by the time the inquiry began, the ads no longer used the words "new" and "introduced." The NAD board said the cap technology for Miller Lite is similar to competitors'.
Anheuser-Busch marketing vice president Keith Levy said in a statement that his company uses "special oxygen-blocking material for bottle caps that is proven to reduce beer taste deterioration." He said the brewer was pleased with NAD's decision.
MillerCoors could have said its caps have always protected its taste or that its beer contains hops — both facts consumers might want to know, said Kelly O'Keefe, managing director of the Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University.
But companies must not inflate claims in ways that confuse consumers, he said, especially because people can easily share their skepticism online.
"Consumers are becoming intolerant of it," he said. "They have tools to publish their opinions and so we're seeing these go away. Also the ad industry recognizes that it has trust issues with the public."
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