When several Israel Railways train cars were carpeted with ads earlier this month featuring super-stinky “deodorant” scents like skunk and garlic, it seemed like the national train company had come up with a quirky and original way to promote their upcoming quiet car, which for an extra fee will allow riders racket-free room to stretch out during their journey.

Dubbed “Spacer Deodorant,” the colorful faux-flyers cheekily encouraged riders to rub foul-smelling antiperspirant on their armpits and hence gain more space on crowded rush-hour trains. But now a group of marketing students from the Open University have come forward to raise a real stink, insisting the campaign was theirs, dreamed up for a student project and taken without permission or credit.

“I’m not saying they stole it, but something is very stinky about this campaign, because it’s the same,” says Avi Berger, one of the group of four students who created an imaginary ad campaign for “Stink Stick” deodorant as part of a digital marketing class in 2013. “When you see them side by side, I just don’t know.”

Berger and his classmates had been tasked with creating a viral marketing campaign, and dreamed up the idea of using fake ads for gross-smelling deodorants as a way to create buzz for a public transport initiative offering extra space, at an added cost. Their project listed a campaign in several stages, including an initial rollout of posters and a specific teaser (“Need a little space?”).

Avi Berger (Courtesy)

Avi Berger (Courtesy)

Needless to say, when one of his classmates spied the Israel Railways ads a few months later and posted them on Facebook, Berger was shocked.

“We don’t really know how this campaign happened but we do know something is stinky. It’s not kosher,” he says.

The Israel Railways campaign is being run by branding company Respect, which has vehemently denied any plagiarism. Nevertheless, Berger says he and his classmates have discussed taking legal action but aren’t yet sure how they want to proceed.

The most important thing, Berger says, is that students be aware that when they bring their best work to a classroom project, they also need to make sure their intellectual property is protected.

“It’s possible that great minds think alike, but I don’t think great minds think the same,” he says. “To come up with ideas that are exactly the same, it’s a one in a million chance.”