June 4, 2023
Labels are Important: Is “Fireball Cinnamon” a Whisky or Whiskey Flavored
Class Action Suit Against Sazerac
Whisky-drinking consumers are all up in arms against Sazerac, the distiller of Fireball Whisky, so much so that they filed a class action suit on January 30, 2023.
The plaintiff's claim: Sazerac misled consumers into believing its nearly-identical miniature bottle labeled “Fireball Cinnamon” is a whisky (it's really a malt beverage, not whiskey).
Consumers claim that the problem lies with the “Fireball Cinnamon” label.
The label reads in part: “With Natural Whisky & Other Flavors.”
The plaintiffs allege: “When viewed together with the Fireball distilled spirit brand name, the label misleads consumers into believing it is or contains distilled spirits.”
Sazerac argued that the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim.
The U.S. District Court disagreed, dismissing Sacerac's Motion to Dismiss the case.
The court commented: “Sazerac's misrepresentations go beyond the “mere use of the brand name ‘Fireball,'” but also to designing the label and packaging in a misleading manner.”
The “net impression” of the ad is what reasonable consumers take away from the ad, including all implied claims and interpretations (and messaging on labels).
Advertisers are required to substantiate the entire "net impression," not just the messaging and claims intended by the advertiser.
A big lesson from the “Fireball Cinnamon” case is that if consumers have a clear understanding of a brand's attributes, they may have reasonable expectations regarding other follow-on products that have similar labeling and messaging.
For that reason, labeling and related messaging should clearly disclose the follow-on product attributes to avoid misrepresentation.