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"Wiener Wars": Oscar Mayer vs. Ball Park franks

File,AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

"Let the wiener wars begin."

With those words, US Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow began the proceedings as the makers of two of the nation's most popular hot dogs brands, Oscar Mayer wieners and Ball Park franks, grilled each other in a Chicago courtroom.

It is, observes CBS News Correspondent Michelle Miller, a legal beef any top dog might relish, and in this case, two of the biggest hot dog brands are going at it.

At issue, bragging rights, pitting Sara Lee Corp, which makes Ball Park franks, against Kraft Foods' Oscar Mayer wieners.

They've sued each other on various claims of false advertising.

"If you want punishment," notes Andrea Levine of the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division, "if you want a pound of flesh, if you want damages, if you want injunctive relief, then you need to go to court."

Could Oscar Mayer boast that its dogs beat out Ball Park franks in a national taste test, even if dogs were served without buns or condiments?

"Taste tests are tricky," Levine points out, "because there's all kinds of ways to conduct them to skew the results and bias one product over another."

Could it stand by ads that say its jumbo beef franks are "100 percent pure beef"?

"Do they mean 100 percent of the ingredient in this skin is beef," asks one man, "or do they mean all the meat that's in there is beef?"

By the same token, is it fair for Ball Park to run ads claiming its product was "America's best (franks)," and others "aren't even in the same league"?

Savvy consumers CBS News talked to seemed to understand the stakes.

Said one, "I think it's called puffery, if I'm not mistaken, in advertising, where you can make a claim that you can't prove. But you can't disprove it, either."

"It always will be determined by the context, and how you make the claim," says Rick Kurnit, of entertainment and advertising law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, think back to a famous ad from the 1970s, in which Hebrew National said, "We answer to a higher authority."

Kurnit defended the makers of Hebrew National before the Federal Trade Commission against complaints by competitors, and won.

"It'll be interesting," he says, "to see whether the judge continues his lighthearted approach to this."

The judged also said, "I already have my favorite, and it's none of the brands on trial."