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Leonard Vs. Pepsico Inc: The Time A Kid Sued Pepsi for A Harrier Jet

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 17, 2023 3:00 am

Leonard Vs. Pepsico Inc: The Time A Kid Sued Pepsi for A Harrier Jet

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 17, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, we learn about the law school classic Leonard v. PepsiCo Inc., which helps kids navigate the curious world of contract law, but in 1999 it was serious business. Sean Kernan of Medium helps us tell the story...

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What up? It's Dromos from the Life as a Gringo Podcast.

We are back with a brand new season. Now Life as a Gringo speaks to Latinos who are born or raised here in the States. It's about educating and breaking those generational curses that man have been holding us back for far too long.

I'm here to discuss the topics that are relevant to all of us and to define what it means to live as our true authentic self. Listen to Life as a Gringo on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories and we tell stories about everything here on this show, including your stories. Send them to

They're some of our favorites. And up next, a curious case of contract law. In 1996, one John Leonard sued Pepsi over a promise that he saw as reneged on. But that's only half of the story. Here's our own Monty Montgomery to help tell the rest. Court cases are serious business. If I put this knit cap on, who am I? I'm still Johnny Cochran with a knit cap. Court cases are important. If Douglas touches me, you will not be happier, honor. You know what? If Douglas beats you to a pulp, I'll be delighted.

Get out. And there's one court case in the 90s that was truly astounding. And no, it's not the people versus O.J. I'm talking about Leonard versus PepsiCo, Inc.

Here's Sean Kernan of Medium with this dramatic story of deceit, twists and turns and contract law. In 1996, Pepsi rolled out one of its Drink Pepsi Get Stuffed campaigns. It was your usual promotion where you get points for purchases that you can later use.

The TV ad targeted teenage and early 20s customers. It showed all these cool things you could win with Pepsi points. They showed a kid wearing a Pepsi T-shirt, 75 Pepsi points. He was wearing a leather jacket that was fourteen hundred and fifty points.

He had sunglasses on that were one hundred and seventy five points. They then boasted the more Pepsi you drink, the more great stuff you're going to get. Then it escalated. The commercial ends with that same kid who was wearing the leather jacket and sunglasses landing a Harrier jet in front of a school. Everyone's papers were blowing off of their desks and kids were crowding to the window to see the jet landing.

And there in the courtyard is a literal Harrier with the kid in it. The jet is armed the teeth and below it, it says Harrier Fighter, seven million Pepsi points. The campaign was mostly a success as sales increased significantly. But there will be an interesting twist in this promotion.

A 21 year old business student, John Leonard, saw the commercial and took a particular interest in that jet. To get the Harrier, he would need to buy millions of Pepsi's. Most winning Pepsi's only had one point on the label. Some had three and five, but there were no one million Pepsi point bottles.

But there was a workaround. John noticed the fine print said you could buy points to get the merchandise instead. Each point was 10 cents. So for example, the 1,450 point jacket cost $145. The 175 point sunglasses would cost $17.50. Notably, both items likely cost a fraction of that to make, but it was good margins and smart business.

And the other thing is, John noticed the fine print said you could buy points to get the merchandise instead. What Pepsi failed to notice was the margins on the Harrier, which wasn't listed in the catalog, but was advertised in the commercial. John did some quick math and realized that the seven million point Harrier would cost $700,000. Back in the real world, a fresh Harrier sells for north of $30 million.

John Leonard found four investors who all pitched in. He then sent the check for $700,000 directly to Pepsi. His check said he wished to redeem his points for the Harrier they'd advertised in the commercial.

And thus began a war of letters. Pepsi's marketing team wrote back, the item you've requested is not part of the Pepsi stuff collection. It is not included in the catalog or in the order form. Only catalog merchandise can be redeemed under this program.

The Harrier jet in the commercial is fanciful and is included simply to create a humorous and entertaining ad. We apologize for any misunderstanding or confusion that you may have experienced. We are including some free product coupons for your use. John Leonard was not satisfied. His lawyer wrote a response. Your letter of May 7th, 1996 is totally unacceptable. We have reviewed the videotape of the Pepsi stuff commercial, and it clearly offers a new Harrier jet for seven million Pepsi points. Our client followed your rules explicitly. This is a formal demand that you honor your commitment and make immediate arrangements to transfer the new Harrier jet to our client. If we do not receive transfer instructions within 10 business days of the date of this letter, you will leave us with no choice but to file an appropriate action against Pepsi.

Pepsi senior marketing executive Raymond McGovern then jumped in with his own letter. I find it hard to believe that you are of the opinion that the Pepsi stuff commercial, quote, commercial, really offers a new Harrier jet. The use of the jet was clearly a joke that was meant to make the commercial more humorous and entertaining.

In my opinion, no reasonable person would agree with your analysis of the commercial. This is when formal court cases started firing up. Quite comically, Pepsi had to file an official case stating they shouldn't be required to furnish a Harrier jet to John Leonard. For the next three years, this case weaved through court systems before a judge ruled in Pepsi's favor for two key reasons. One, a commercial is not a contractual offer. Two, the commercial was clearly tongue-in-cheek.

No reasonable person would have thought the offer was real. Lastly, and quite humorously again, the judge added this commentary. In light of the Harrier jet's well-documented function in attacking and destroying surface to air targets, armed reconnaissance and air interdiction, and offensive and defensive anti-aircraft warfare, depiction of such a jet as a way to get to school in the morning is clearly not serious, even if the plaintiff contends the jet can be delivered in a form that removes its military use. Pepsi went on to amend its commercial, changing seven million points to 700 million points.

They would also add a small print to the advertisement saying, just kidding. If there's any silver lining to all this madness, the case has now become a staple in law schools. A good majority of legal students will end up studying Leonard versus PepsiCo, Inc. as the case offers an entertaining look into the infinite gray area of contract law. All that being said, a small part of me still wishes they'd just given the guy the Harrier, or done something cool for him besides offering a few coupons.

And a great job by Monty Montgomery, and just a delight to listen to, and in its own way, a kind of prank. I mean, I just wanted to see what would happen, but the idea of wrangling together $700,000 to just, well, stick it to Pepsi, just have some fun. And of course, the court stuck it right back to these folks, but they've always had this story as a result, and a great law case. The story of John Leonard and a suit against Pepsi for a Harrier jet, here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming. That's our American
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-19 15:41:14 / 2023-02-19 15:44:52 / 4

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