There is a whiskey war a-brewin' in Kentucky.
Not an old-fashioned Prohibition-era Shia LeBoeuf shootout whiskey war, but a much more tame legal battle surrounding intellectual property and Google search terms.
According to legal documents presented to a Louisville District Court late last month, cinnamon-infused whisky giant Fireball is claiming that Jack Daniel's is illegally using the word "fireball" in Google advertisements, the Spirit Business is reporting.
After Fireball was launched officially in 1998, it registered subsequent trademarks which it now says are being infringed by ads for Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire.
Neither of these products is a whiskey per se; they are cinnamon liqueurs blended with whiskey. Still, Fireball's smooth taste and "demons and dragons" labelling have managed to make it a runaway hit among young drinkers who enjoy its more palatable taste but feel like badasses because they are drinking shots of straight "whiskey."
This triumph of branding has turned Fireball from a virtually unknown Canadian liqueur to an international staple which has forced the old guard of whiskey brands like Jack Daniel's to tone down the mash and crank up the cinnamon. But now, the competition between these two companies has gone beyond the distilleries where the liqueurs are made and into the series of tubes which make up the internet.
Sazerac, the company that owns Fireball, is accusing Brown-Forman, the company that owns Jack Daniel's, of using Google AdWords to buy keywords that would usually direct Google users toward Fireball but instead pull them toward the Tennessee Fire.Fireball's sales figures have jumped from $1.9 million in 2011 to $61 million in 2013, so it's hardly surprising that the competitors are trying to get in on those numbers. But Sazerac claims that the Jack Daniel's parent company has gone too far in its attempts to corner Google users by paying for the word "Fireball," according to the Spirit Business.
"It is readily apparent that defendant deliberately chose to purchase 'Fireball' as a Google AdWords and include either 'Fireball' or 'Fire-Ball' in the text and headers of its ads triggered by searches for 'Fireball' in order to create a false association with or subversively divert consumers away from Sazerac's Fireball brand," the lawsuit reads.
Sazerac alleges that this "false association" between the cinnamon liqueurs warrants getting a cut of Jack Daniel's profits, in addition to payment for damages and costs of the lawsuit. This isn't the first time that Sazerac has resorted to litigation in order to protect it's golden fire-breathing goose—earlier this year, they sued Fire Flask malt liquor for having very similar Satan-ish imagery.
Jack Daniel's, for its part, denies any wrongdoing and says it's just using all of the technology available to compete in a cutthroat market. "The lawsuit is about common digital marketing practices and we will contest this legal action vigorously," the company said in a statement.
MUNCHIES reached out to Sazerac, Fireball's parent company, for comment but a representative said that the brand does not comment on pending litigation. But Brown-Forman, for its part, told MUNCHIES that "the parties are exploring an amicable and mutually agreeable solution."