In our Friday Editions, we reported that the nation's largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch, had asked the Federal Trade Commission "to investigate its hottest competitor, Miller Brewing Co., for alleged false advertising."
The Anheuser-Busch claim was that "Miller has been using the name Lowenbrau on beer brewed and sold in the United States while implying in its advertising that the beer is imported from Germany."
Anheuser-Busch told the FTC that marketing domestically produced beer under a label traditionally associated with a product brewed in Germany is misleading and constitutes an unfair method of competition.
The words and music were pretty much the same when I complained about automobiles and television sets that carry American brand names but are produced in foreign countries.
My generation was brought up to believe that brand-name loyalty was one of the pillars upon which the nation was founded - not quite on a level with home, mother or the flag, but almost. If the nameplate said Dodge or Ford or General Motors or General Electric or RCA, you just knew that solid American workmanship had gone into the product.
But then we began putting American nameplates on goods brought in from overseas. And now we have completed the cycle and have begun putting prestigious foreign nameplates on domestically produced goods.
The Lowenbrau flap first came to my attention when Forbes, a business magazine, ran an article titled "Home-made Imports" in its Oct. 15 issue. A man named John H. Christoffel had paid $2.60 for "what he thought was a six-pack of imported beer. It wasn't, so he sued Miller Brewing Co. for deceptive advertising."
The suit was later withdrawn, Forbes said, but the controversy continued as consumers paid a higher price for Lowenbrau, "sometimes double the price of domestic beer," because they thought they were buying an imported beer.
Actually, Miller's contract with the German brewers included two separate agreements. Under the first, Miller imports genuine Lowenbrau from Munich and sells it in this country. Under the second, Miller bought the right to brew beer in this country, call it Lowenbrau, and bottle it to look like German Lowenbrau.
However, if one looks closely, he will find that the labels on the two types of Lowenbrau do tell the truth about what's inside the bottles. On the imported bottles, the labels say, "Imported by Miller Brewing Co." On the domestically brewer beer, the labels say, "Brewed by Miller Brewing Co., USA." If you read the small print, you know which is which.
Forbes' interest was, naturally, centered on the financial prospects of the companies involved in the controversy. It explained that the hottest profit item for breweries right now is "image beer," and it explained: "An image beer, simply enough, is a well-known and prestigious foreign beer to which a domestic brewer has bought the rights and which it brews in the U.S. - like Miller's Lowenbrau or Carling's Tuborg."
A financial analyst for Oppenheimer & Co. was quoted as saying: "If the brewers are charging about 80 cents more per six-pack for the image staff than for the lower-priced premium beers, but the costs are the same, then they are going to make a fortune on it."
That thought appears to have occurred to others, too. To date, some 160 foreign brands of beer are on sale in this country, with some of them selling at up to $4.50 per six-pack. But nobody can be sure which ones are really imported until he reads the small print on the label.