Wysong Corp. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 17-1981 (6th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Based on allegedly deceptive pictures on pet food packaging, Wysong alleged false advertising under the Lanham Act, requiring proof that the Defendants made false or misleading statements of fact about their products, which actually deceived or had a tendency to deceive a substantial portion of the intended audience, and likely influenced the deceived consumers’ purchasing decisions, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the complaint's dismissal. If a plaintiff shows that the defendant’s advertising communicated a “literally false” message to consumers, courts presume that consumers were actually deceived. Wysong claimed the Defendants’ messaging was literally false because the photographs on their packages tell consumers their kibble is made from premium cuts of meat—when it is actually made from the trimmings. A reasonable consumer could understand the Defendants’ packaging as indicating the type of animal from which the food was made but not the precise cut used so that Wysong’s literal-falsity argument fails. A plaintiff can, alternatively, show that the defendant’s messaging was “misleading,” by proving that a “significant portion” of reasonable consumers were actually deceived by the defendant’s messaging, usually by using consumer surveys. Wysong’s complaints do not support a plausible inference that the Defendants’ packaging caused a significant number of reasonable consumers to believe their pet food was made from premium lamb chops, T-bone steaks, and the like. Reasonable consumers know that marketing involves some level of exaggeration.