Sara Lee Corp., which makes Ball Park® franks, and Kraft Foods, Inc., which makes Oscar Mayer® hot dogs, have reportedly brought their marketing dispute to a Chicago courtroom where trial recently began on claims each company brought against the other over ad campaigns that sought to distinguish their brands. Stating “let the wiener wars begin,” U.S. District Judge Morton Denlow apparently opened the bench trial on August 15, 2011.

Sara Lee takes issue with Kraft claims that its hot dogs beat Sara Lee’s in a national taste test and that its hot dogs are “100 percent pure beef.” According to Sara Lee, the taste test was flawed because the products were not served with condiments or buns, and hot dogs containing filler and chemicals cannot be called 100 percent pure. Kraft defends its testing and asserts that consumers understand that “pure beef” means that the products do not contain other meats.

Kraft challenges Sara Lee ads claiming that its hot dogs are “America’s Best Franks” and that other hot dogs “aren’t even in the same league.” Sara Lee apparently based its claims on an award bestowed on the company’s Ball Park® franks by leading San Francisco chefs. During the company’s opening statement, the court reportedly questioned how “ten chefs in San Francisco know what the best hot dog is when they have never been to Chicago or tasted a Chicago hot dog?”

Expected to last several weeks, the courtroom trial is purportedly rare in an industry that generally resolves its advertising disputes by bringing them before the Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division. According to some legal commentators, it could help define how comparative testing should be conducted, as well as what types of claims are actionable. See Chicago Tribune, August 15, 2011; Advertising Age, August 17, 2011.