Anheuser-Busch InBev, Queen of Carbs


Full-page newspaper ads calling Miller Brewing Co. beer the "Queen of Carbs" and "South African Owned" unleashed one of the first advertising legal fights over a slur called homophobic and sexist. The print ad, which also appeared in USA Today, shows a bottle of Budweiser accompanied by a script that says, "the king of beers, American brewed since 1876."

The suit, now dropped, also alleged Anheuser-Busch has "either authorized, encouraged or condoned" agents or employees to affix stickers reading "Queen of Carbs" on Miller Lite bottles in stores. Miller company spokesman Mike Hennick said such activities were found in California, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida.

Anheuser-Busch denied the company did anything illegal and that defacing competitors' products or sales materials is against company policy.

Responding to the jingoist element of the ads, Miller Brewing, a wholly owned subsidiary of London-based SABMiller, sued in U.S. District Court for the Eastern Wisconsin accusing Anheuser-Busch of "false, unfair and illegal" marketing tactics. "There is no legal entity named South African Breweries," the filing says.

A federal judge ordered Anheuser-Busch to pull some ads, including planned TV.

Miller retaliated with print ads that jab at Budweiser's lontime "King of Beers" slogan by saying that Miller brands want to be the "President of beers" because "This is America! We don't kowtow to a bunch of tiara wearing crumpet eaters."

New York Times' ad columnist Stuart Elliott wrote of his question to an Anheuser-Busch spokesman, "Asked why it is better to be a king than a queen, when they sit together in the throne room," the spokesman replied, "That's up to you to interpret."

In May 2004, sales of Miller Lite were surging while Bud Light sales were slowing down. Miller overall holds 18% of the U.S. market, while Budweiser carries 50%.

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User Comments
The ad becomes a lot funnier if you interpret "king" as referring to drag king and playing on the camp queen / butch dyke dynamic. As a random aside, i'm coming to believe that South Africa is, in general, substantially more progressive than the US and this *should* be a very troubling thought.

This weekend at Pride, the Miller distributors were labeling their product as "Queen of Beers" - a takeoff on this commercial?

Although I have to say the message is homophobic, as a marketing person I begrudgingly have to admit it is funny and quite clever.

Vance Blankenbaker
I don't see how this ad can be construed homophobic- except as a tangent to the sexist and jingoistic buttons it pushes. Social group "ism's" often go hand-in-hand, espoused most strongly by chest-thumping, flag waving neanderthals. It's a short move from jingoism and sexism to homophobia. So, is it homophobic? I don't see that. But I can certainly see how this ad comes from the same ugly mentality.

I was paid to be in a focus group for Budweiser about 18 months ago that tested the "Queen of Carbs/King of Beers" angle, as well as the fact that Miller is South African-owned (like anyone should care).

The guys in the group--all straight as far as I could tell--seemed to think "Queen of Carbs" was a pretty low blow. People groaned when they saw the trial ad, but I guess Budweiser didn't get the message.