By David Kidd, BPR
The new Netflix documentary, “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet”, is the story of a guy called John Leonard who sued Pepsi for false advertising. While the move backfired on John, the court case shaped advertising laws forever.
In 1995, Leonard was a 20-year-old student in the United States, where he was coaching little league football and dreaming of having a successful business. But, a commercial from Pepsi changed the course of his life.
The 90s were all about the cola wars and in a bid to steer Gen Xers to choose Pepsi over Coca-Cola, Pepsi introduced Pepsi Points, which could be redeemed for Pepsi merchandise.
What could Pepsi Points buy?
In order to understand the difficulty of buying merchandise with points, basic maths needs to be applied. The amount of points a customer would receive was:
After months of saving for points customers would be able to buy the following:
Now, neither the radio or TV commercials contained any fine print, disclaimer or legal notice telling viewers it was a joke. There was no Harrier jet. But unaware of this, Leonard was on a mission to get the jet, and found five investors to help him achieve his goal.
It was too expensive to buy all that Pepsi to get the 7 million points. So, Leonard found a loophole in the fine print. Pepsi Points could be purchased for ten cents a-piece. With the help of his investors, he sent off a $700,008.50 cheque – and sat back waiting for his Harrier jet to arrive.
Weeks later, Pepsi responded saying the inclusion of the Harrier jet in the commercial was nothing more than a joke. But Leonard didn’t want to take no as an answer. After filing of legal suits and counter suits, Pepsi offered Leonard a settlement of $750,000, but he rejected it as he was still on a mission to claim the jet. The Pentagon even got involved. In September 1997, the Pentagon announced that Harrier jets were not for sale and would need to be “demilitarized” before being offered to the public, which included disabling their ability to conduct vertical take-offs and landings.
Unfortunately, in 1999, the judge ruled in favour of Pepsi, saying no reasonable person would think a Harrier jet was attainable by claiming Pepsi reward points.
Leonard might not have received his Harrier jet, but he made history as he changed the way advertising was presented, with disclaimers now an integral part of many commercials.
Outside of April Fool’s pranks, duping your listeners with false statements or promises that might seem hilarious to you is a dangerous road to go down. Make sure EVERYONE is in on the joke. Remember the Hooters waitress who thought she’d won a Toyota but instead the restaurant chain gave her a Toy Yoda. She won enough money in the court case to buy any Toyota she wanted…. and then some!
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