Loco Lawsuits: Quit Creating Fantasies

Appealing to consumer emotion is part and parcel of advertising in America. Even back in 1962, Don Draper was saying, “You, feeling something — that’s what sells.” But some television ads can create adverse reactions. That seems to have been the case when a Michigan man sued Anheuser-Busch in 1991.

Richard Overton claimed that some Bud Light commercials were “untrue, deceptive, and/or misleading.” His pro se complaint said the ads led him “and the public at large” to purchase “inherently dangerous” products that were “likely to cause serious health problems, temporary and/or permanent impairment to the consumers’ mental abilities, serious addictions, and possibly death.”

Why were the ads so deceptive? Simple. In one, a beer truck was “shown to be the source of fantasies coming to life, involving otherwise impossible manifestations of scenic tropical settings, beautiful women and men engaged in endless and unrestricted merriment.” Such representations were “grossly misleading,” he alleged. He asked the court to issue a permanent injunction against Anheuser-Busch. He also sought damages for “personal injury to his health both physical and mental, emotional distress, and financial loss in excess of $10,000.”

The state court judge dismissed the suit, agreeing with Anheuser-Busch’s argument that it didn’t have a duty to warn of commonly known dangers. The Michigan Court of appeals agreed. It also observed that claims that Bud Light “is the source of fantasies come to life” was “grandiose.” Rather, any such suggestions were puffery.

Overton’s lawsuit was wrapped up more than a decade before Spuds MacKenzie became the face of Bud Light’s commercials. That’s when we all had a claim against Anheuser-Busch for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Our Supreme Court has long recognized that the dangers inherent in alcohol consumption are well known to the public.

Overton v. Anheuser-Busch, 517 N.W.2d 308 (Mich. Ct. App. 1994)

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