Last I checked, the thing in the package was the point, not the packaging itself. But of course, certain beer manufacturers disagree.

Observe MillerCoors, which has been out front in creating and marketing fancy packaging: ink that changes color to tell you when your beer is cold (saving you the trouble of, say, touching it to find out), or Miller Lite’s “Vortex” bottle, which added rifle-like grooves to the neck to make sure the beer is extra swirly when it reaches your tongue.

Well, Budweiser has had quite enough of this. Ad Age reports that a long-simmering trade dispute between InBev and MillerCoors over its claims to have invented a better beer package has been kicked up from an obscure trade panel to the full Federal Trade Commission for review:

In a complaint first filed with the National Advertising Division, the brewer took issue with “the implied claim that Coors Light Beer cans are technologically superior to other beer cans, and provide a more refreshing beverage experience,” according to the NAD.

And more:

The proceedings highlight how beer packaging, which was once an afterthought, has emerged as a major marketing tool for both brewers as they seek momentum in the sluggish light beer segment … Among the claims challenged by A-B InBev is the slogan that “when the mountains turn blue, it’s as cold as the Rockies.”

MillerCoors has denied that it is making exaggerated claims, though Ad Age said the company said it was getting ready to phase out the “world’s most refreshing can” ad campaign this year anyway.

Bud is hardly innocent in the package wars, however. Earlier this year, the company earned a round of snickers as it debuted the new 11.3 ounce “Bowtie” can. The gimmick was so pointless that the makers of Newcastle Brown Ale mocked it in their own ad campaign noting that you could achieve the same effect by simply indenting the can with your fingers – and you’d still get a full 12 ounces of beer. Bud is also is rolling out its new “Vented Can,” with an extra hole, supposedly for a smoother pour.

“The integrated tab design gives consumers the freedom to enjoy the superior drinkability of America’s favorite light beer in a vented can without the inconvenience of needing additional tools or objects to puncture the lid,” the company said in a press release announcing a summer test run in Kentucky.

Glad we have that problem licked.

I like a good beer label as much as the next guy, and I’ll admit to having bought beer once in a while simply because the packaging was eye catching. But packaging can’t keep a consumer coming back. If the beer is bad, you can hire a new Picasso to do the label and still nobody will reach for another can.

This came up earlier this year when I was talking with Lagunitas marketing guru Ron Lindenbusch for a story about founder Tony Magee. The packaging has to be good, something to which a customer relates or which tells a story, Ron said. “It’s there to pique curiosity and leave people with more of a feeling of full satisfaction from the product because the package delivers something on the mental level,” he said.

But, he added, “then the beer in the bottle has got to be good.”

So what does it say that InBev and MillerCoors seem more excited about fussing over the quality of their cans than the quality of their brews? There’s an old joke in lawyer circles that goes something like: if the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If both the law and the facts are against you, shout and pound on the lectern.

Sounds like InBev and MillerCoors are at the shouting stage, beerwise.

– Sean Scully