A class action lawsuit has been filed against Sazerac Company, the maker of Fireball Whiskey, for allegedly misleading consumers into believing that its miniature Fireball Cinnamon malt beverage product contains whiskey.

Sazerac, which sells Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, also makes miniature bottles of a product with a nearly-identical label that is called “Fireball Cinnamon.”  The smaller, low-cost bottle of Fireball Cinnamon, is actually a malt beverage -- not a whiskey.  

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that the label misleads consumers into believing the product contains distilled spirits.  The complaint states, “Using the words ‘With Natural Whisky & Other Flavors’ is a clever turn of phrase because consumers who strain to read this will see how ‘Natural Whisky’ is distinct from ‘Other Flavors’.”  The plaintiffs alleged that, not only is the statement written in the “smallest allowed size,” but when reading this statement, purchasers will believe the product is a malt beverage with added natural whiskey, and other flavors, separately – instead of what the label intends to communicate, which is that the product contains natural whiskey flavors, along with other flavors.

According to the complaint, the mistaken belief that the product contains whiskey is “one intended by the manufacturer.”  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.” 

While this lawsuit is still in its very early stages, the case raises an important issue for brands to consider when they are planning to expand into other, related categories.  If consumers have a certain idea about what your brand represents, they may believe that other products sold under a similar brand name or in similar packaging will have similar attributes.  Remember, as a general matter, advertisers are responsible for all reasonable interpretations of their advertising claims -- not just for the claims that they intend to convey.  When consumers have experience with your brand, they may have specific ideas about what that means -- and that's something worth taking into account when planning for new product launches.