Budweiser is being accused of ripping off the trademarked logo and slogan of the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina, and using both to hawk its products throughout the state. A lawsuit filed in federal court this week accuses both AB-InBev and and R.A. Jeffreys Distributing Company of the "blatant and ongoing" use of the logo and slogan in banners placed above beer coolers in North Carolina convenience stores, Consumerist reports.
According to the suit, Budweiser began using the tribe's logo as early as 2004. The tribe's "Heritage, Pride & Strength" slogan can be seen on banners marketing Budweiser products beginning in July 2015. The use of both the slogan and the logo, say the tribe, "creates the false impression that the Lumbee Tribe is affiliated, connected or associated" with Budweiser in any way. The suit also notes that "many members of the tribe find [this] offensive because alcohol abuse is often associated with Native American culture."
An exhibit from the suit, filed June 14, appears to show the tribe's logo, name, and trademark being used to market Budweiser products in a convenience store:
In a statement given to Eater, AB InBev said the banners were the work of wholesaler R.A. Jeffreys and were made without the involvement of Anheuser-Busch.
Our wholesalers often implement local marketing efforts on behalf of our brands. The wholesaler responsible for these signs removed them shortly after a complaint was brought to its attention, and has since expressed its regrets. Anheuser-Busch respects the Lumbee Tribe and likewise regrets that this occurred.
R.A. Jeffreys released its own statement, saying the banners it created were meant to "honor the rich heritage of the Lumbee Tribe," and confirms they were made without the knowledge of Anheuser-Busch.
On Wednesday, June 15, 2016, a lawsuit was filed against R.A. Jeffreys Distributing Company and Anheuser-Busch, LLC by the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. The lawsuit alleges that R.A. Jeffreys and Anheuser-Busch have infringed certain trademark rights of the Lumbee Tribe. In this matter, R.A. Jeffreys developed some point-of-sale advertising materials that were intended to honor the rich heritage of the Lumbee Tribe. These materials were developed by R.A. Jeffreys without the involvement, input or knowledge of Anheuser-Busch. On June 9, 2016, R.A. Jeffreys was informed through a telephone call that the Lumbee Tribe objected to the use of these materials, and by June 10, 2016, R.A. Jeffreys had removed all of the materials in question. R.A. Jeffreys regrets any offense that may have been taken to the use of the materials in which the Lumbee Tribe claims an interest, and R.A. Jeffreys will not make any further use of such materials unless specifically permitted to do so by the Lumbee Tribe. R.A. Jeffreys values and respects the heritage of the communities in which its customers live and work.
Budweiser has long utilized some pretty questionable marketing tactics. In recent years, advertising campaigns have mocked craft beer and its drinkers, despite the fact that the company has been purchasing American microbreweries on an fairly regular basis.
In an even stranger move, just last month, Budweiser began using labels that replace the beer's name with, simply, "America." And what's more American than coming into a Native American tribe's territory and claiming its stuff as your own, really?
Scope out the lawsuit, below: