“The best coffee for the best you”—is that puffery? A subtle reminder to remember to drink your coffee, calling to mind your morning disposition without caffeine? Well, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that this phrase and other claims in Starbucks advertising were “puffery.” Let’s look at the facts.
A plaintiff class alleged that claims made by Starbucks, including “The best coffee for the best you,” “Starbucks or nothing” and “Heart, soul, craft, pride, love; you won’t find that in any other cup of coffee” ran very counter to the company’s use of a pesticide, dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate, as pest control in certain Manhattan stores. The Plaintiff alleged this use of purportedly harmful pesticides in the coffee made the claims false or deceptive advertising. A Manhattan district court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim, finding, as the appeals court put it, “that almost all of Starbucks’s statements referenced in the amended complaint constitute puffery.”
The court of appeals agreed with lower court that most of the claims were puffery. Claims like “The best coffee for the best you”, the court said, only vaguely assert the superiority of Starbucks coffee, in a way that is best understood as an opinion rather than a factual claim—one form of puffery. Even with respect to statements that referred to specifics about ingredients and sourcing in Starbucks food and drinks, the court said, “no reasonable consumer would believe that these statements communicate anything about the use of pesticide[s] in Starbucks’ stores.” Rather, those statements were limited to how Starbucks prepares and sources its coffee and the quality of its ingredients.
Puffery is a defense to false advertising in cases where no reasonable consumer would take the claim literally, because it is too exaggerated or vague. Defendants sometimes claim puffery even when the claim does not meet that definition, which is why many puffery defenses fail. If they do, advertisers can be roasted if they do not substantiate their claims. MMR Strategy Group offers claim substantiation surveys and other research for advertisers that would like to go into their campaigns well-armed, with reliable research and a court-ready report. If you’re interested in claim substantiation research, contact us to discuss how we can help.