A sizzling stoush between a Kiwi marketing firm and pork company owned by a global food giant has flared up with an exchange of allegations, denials and legal letters over who created a bacon advertising campaign.
The Business Marketing Group (BMG) referred to an "infringement" of its intellectual property rights after making an unsolicited pitch to Premier Beehive, which produces bacon, hams, sausages and shaved meats at its Carterton factory in Wairarapa.
But Premier Beehive - owned by Brazil's JBS, the largest meat processing company in the world - has defended its position and says the campaign, using the tagline "NZ's most delicious", was its own.
BMG's managing director Ben Cochrane told the Herald the 42-page pitch, including a series of sketches for potential billboard ads, was delivered to Premier Beehive's office in December 2019.
The proposal was to use photos of meals with bacon and a snappy headline, the document seen by the Herald shows. One such headline read "Making New Zealand's most delicious breakfasts", which incorporated Premier Beehive's tagline of "NZ's most delicious".
After further attempts in February to contact Premier Beehive over the ideas Cochrane said he thought "oh, obviously they didn't like it".
"And then I was driving back from the airport about two weeks ago and word for word, exactly what we presented to them, all over the billboards, all over Auckland on buses and everything," he told the Herald.
Concerned, Cochrane spoke to his copyright lawyer who he said told him, "it's pretty clear cut mate, I'll send them a letter".
The letter from lawyer Chris Hocquard, dated July 20 and seen by the Herald, said the Auckland marketing firm hand-delivered its presentation to Premier Beehive's brand manager and addressed it to managing director Dene McKay.
"The presentation seemed well received by your brand manager and an undertaking was made to share it with you as you were on a conference call at the time in your office," the legal letter sent to McKay reads.
Hocquard said BMG was not surprised or concerned that Premier Beehive offered no formal reply or response to the proposal.
"That happens, and our client assumed for whatever reason that you were not interested in pursuing a discussion around the marketing strategy my clients had developed and were suggesting, and that in the normal course of events would have been the end of it," Hocquard's letter reads.
But he said what BMG was "surprised and concerned" to discover was billboards containing "precisely the marketing strategy our client had pitched to you".
He alleged it included the use of "identical or almost identical" headlines to those created and pitched by BMG.
Auckland billboards seen by the Herald show the use of a headline alongside a photo of a bacon meal, two of which read "Making New Zealand's most delicious breakfasts" and "Making New Zealand's most delicious sandwiches".
In his letter, Hocquard said it appeared Premier Beehive had "simply adopted" BMG's suggested marketing strategy "holus bolus" without BMG's knowledge or consent.
"This amounts to a considerable departure from what is considered normal industry practice. Even in a highly competitive industry there are still general expectations that agencies act in good faith and within acceptable ethical boundaries, and respect the intellectual property rights of creative agencies."
He added, BMG "expects" the issue was a breakdown in communication "rather than a deliberate infringement of our client's intellectual property".
"Our client, like any creative agency, is protective of its intellectual property. It is its livelihood."
On page nine of BMG's pitch it reads: "The ideas expressed in this document are the intellectual property rights of the Business Marketing Group."
Hocquard said BMG wanted "payment in recognition of our client's creative input, as well as a contribution to the legal costs it has incurred".
The following day Premiere Beehive replied through JBS Australia Group's general counsel Jacinta Dale.
She accepted the unsolicited pitch had been made but denied Premiere Beehive adopted BMG's marketing strategy and said her client "was frankly taken aback to have received your letter".
"We appreciate your client may have dedicated some time and effort to that work, but Premier Beehive was not in the market for an alternative agency or marketing strategy and gave it little thought and attention."
Dale said Premier Beehive began using the tagline "NZ's most delicious" about two years ago and has used it in several ways since.
"Earlier this year, in its usual course of business Premier Beehive asked its usual agency to present ideas on the next rounds of marketing using that tagline. The resultant campaigns were developed by that agency with no direction from Premier Beehive off the back of your client's material.
"It is perhaps unsurprising that your client sees similarities between its materials and Premier Beehive's campaign given your client's material drew on Premier Beehive's tagline."
Dale also said the bacon business was confident BMG could not have intended to "stymie Premier Beehive's future use of its own tagline including by diverting resources towards a response of this nature".
Replying to the Herald's questions about the allegations, McKay said the company considered the matter and "responded in a genuine attempt to appease BMG's concerns".
He said "in our usual course of business, our marketing agency developed the campaign via their own creative team".
It is understood the ad agency used was Auckland's Contagion, which has created billboard campaigns for Premier Beehive in the past, including one using a controversial headline about underage sex that it was later forced to pull and apologise for in 2018.
Cochrane told the Herald creativity is something Kiwi businesses can compete on and should be protected.
"The marketing industry is supporting each other right now and there is a good spirit - this is against all that," he said.
"The old 'we were doing that anyway' now go away, you small NZ company. That's not okay either.
"We can't afford to pursue this against a big company and their big lawyers in court … They could have just picked up the phone at any stage since December 2019."
McKay said BMG's claims of intellectual property infringement and corporate bullying were unfounded.