Update: On Thursday a Kraft Heinz spokesperson wrote Motherboard in an email, "We are confident in the uniqueness of our Oscar Mayer Bacoin promotion" and added that the company reached out to Steele. In a direct message on Twitter, Steele told Motherboard that he spoke with company representatives on the phone and that the company will make a donation in his name to the Michigan-based nonprofit The Geek Group National Science Center. The company will also be "sending the Wienermobile to my house for my kids [sic] entertainment and supplying me with some free bacon," he wrote, adding, "Not sure how much bacon I will be getting but I know they are sending me some swag."
Because we live in a meme-saturated hellworld, meat and cold cut company Oscar Mayer is running a promotion called “Bacoin,” a cryptocurrency-inspired redemption program designed to get people to promote bacon on social media. This is lame and I’m sorry to have made you read that, but dear reader, something has happened that makes this branding play improbably, unbelievably, sort of interesting.
It looks like the Kraft Heinz-owned company isn’t the first entity to bring Bacoin to market. A 27-year-old Michiganian IT worker named Kirk Steele (yes, like the character on Broad City), says he created a cryptocurrency called Bacoin designed to be “backed” by bacon in 2014—i.e., tokens can be redeemed for strips of bacon, just like how Oscar Mayer’s Bacoin is supposed to work. On Monday, Steele sent HelloWorld Inc., the Bacoin promotion administrator, a cease-and-desist letter asking the company to stop the promotion or face legal action.
Steele told me in an interview that he was moved to action despite his Bacoin project being far from complete (it was decommissioned and then revived last year, and Steele said he’s yet to find a local meat company that will trade their bacon for Bacoin), because Oscar Mayer’s Bacoin is almost definitely a gag. The press release names Bacoin alongside past joke promotions, like a dating app called Sizzl and an iOS app that claimed to make your phone smell like bacon or something.
“I thought [Bacoin] would be a nice way to get a local company in Michigan some coverage and have some fun with it,” Steele said over the phone. “My initial reaction to [Oscar Mayer’s Bacoin] was that this is awesome, but then I realized that it’s fake and I don’t think there’s going to be any sort of blockchain behind it.”
A blockchain or some kind of decentralized ledger technology is considered a must-have for digital tokens to meet the definition of a cryptocurrency. Spokespeople for Kraft Heinz and HelloWorld didn’t immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment on Steele’s cease-and-desist and if the promotion has a blockchain component.
The “official rules” for Bacoin state that tokens are won via lottery and its price (in other words, how many strips of bacon one token can be redeemed for) goes up and down based on how many people promote it on social media. This is also actually kind of how some real cryptocurrencies work, now that I think about it. The rules also note that the value of Bacoin may be adjusted “if sharing is slow and the value … is low.”
“If they threw me a free year of bacon I would probably drop it and say that’s cool,” Steele told me. “I’m kind of standing up for the little guy here. I don’t think I can afford a lawyer to go all the way with it, but we’ll see.”
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .