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Beer makers called for unsportsmanlike conduct

ST. LOUIS -- The marketing battle between the world's two biggest beer makers is getting increasingly nasty.

Miller Brewing Co. started the fight with TV spots showing a referee penalizing drinkers of Anheuser-Busch Cos.' Budweiser and Bud Light. Calling their choice of suds ''unbeermanlike" conduct, the ref replaces the beer with Miller Lite or Miller Genuine Draft.

Anheuser-Busch then fired back with commercials suggesting Miller's referees were actually stealing the Bud Light for themselves, in some cases looking to run from police with their ill-gotten brews.

Although the commercials amused many consumers, some observers say they lack sportsmanship and maybe good sense. Even TV networks are stepping in, pulling some spots and refusing to debut others.

Critics say there are problems with the ad campaigns: Some of the Miller commercials make unsubstantiated claims about its rival's products, while the Bud spots include unlawful acts.

''To some degree, it has become unusually personal," said Hoag Levins, editor and executive producer of Advertising Age magazine's website, ''Some of the advertising is really petty," he said. And, he and others say, risky in that Anheuser-Busch's counteroffensives against Miller may legitimize the rival that has an 18 percent share of the US beer market, a far cry from Anheuser-Busch's dominant 50 percent.

Some reports say ABC and ESPN rejected three proposed Anheuser-Busch spots spoofing the Miller ones.

Meanwhile, in complaints to federal regulators and the Beer Institute trade group, consumer watchdog Center for Science in the Public Interest has argued that the Anheuser-Busch commercials of beer-pilfering refs bolting from police depict lawlessness.

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