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June 5th, 2002 Rob Manning | News Stories
 

The King of Beers vs. the Beer of Kings

     
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An ad in WW become the latest casualty in Anheuser-Busch's heavy-handed marketing strategy.
The bitter feud over what beer can rightfully be called "Bud" and who's the "King of Beers," has spilled into the pages of WW--because of an advertisement for a Portland beer market.

At one end of the bar, guzzling its way toward the lion's share of the world beer market, is the behemoth of brewing, Anheuser-Busch, which last year sold 25 billion pints in the U.S., more than half of which was Budweiser.

At the other end sits a venerable Czech brew that has been called "Budweiser" throughout Europe since the 13th century, but must be called "Czechvar" in the U.S., due to pressure from its richer (but blander) cousin from St. Louis.

The latest round in the dispute was triggered by local beer merchant John's Market of Multnomah Village, which ran ads in April issues of WW depicting a bottle of Czechvar crushing a can of Bud, next to the caption, "Beer of Kings"--a reversal of Budweiser's catchphrase, "King of Beers."

Unfortunately, Anheuser-Busch screamed "trademark infringement" at John's Market's owner, David Percival. In mid-May, Anheuser lawyer Cecilia Gonzalez sent Percival a letter threatening legal action unless he pulled the ad.

Not only does Anheuser-Busch hold a trademark on "King of Beers," Gonzalez declared, but it also owns rights to "Beer of Kings"--and a bunch of other variations. "Basically, she told me that anything to do with beer and kings, they owned," Percival says.

"We owe it to our shareholders to protect our Budweiser trademark, and all Anheuser-Busch assets, from those who violate our rights," says Stephen K. Lambright, vice president of Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. "In this case, the ad clearly depicts a Budweiser can and uses a phrase that infringes our 'King of Beers' trademark for Budweiser."

Portland's no stranger to Anheuser-Busch's strong-arm tactics. In 1984, tavern owner Bud Clark drew the brewer's ire when he used the slogan "This Bud's For You," in his campaign for mayor. Anheuser complained, and Clark was forced to abandon the phrase. (He retaliated by banishing Anheuser brews from the Goose Hollow Inn.)

In John's Market's case, Anheuser's letter declares the specific grounds for legal action include "dilution, unfair competition, and false designation of origin."

When it comes to "origin," however, Czechvar has a pretty strong case. Although it has only been available in the U.S. for a year, Czechvar has been brewed as the Czech's national beer for 600 years, under the names "Budvar," "Budweis," and "Budweiser."

Its Czech brewer, Budweiser Budvar, has won court cases recently allowing the beer to be sold and marketed as "Budweiser" in Lithuania, and simply as "Bud" in Great Britain. Anheuser-Busch lost its bid to stop those actions, and failed to trademark "Bud" in Germany last year, where a court ruled the name sounds too much like the abbreviation "Bit" of German beer Bitberger.

Back in Portland, Percival says he'll pull the ad, because he cannot possibly counter the legal muscle of the world's biggest beer label--even though he is convinced he has the moral high ground.

"I know kings in Europe drank Czechvar," Percival says. "I'd like to know which kings are drinking Budweiser."

 
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