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The Time A Kid Sued Pepsi for A Harrier Jet

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 2, 2023 3:00 am

The Time A Kid Sued Pepsi for A Harrier Jet

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 2, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, the harrier jet is the pride and joy of the US Marine Corps, but it was also at the center of a lawsuit between Pepsi and John Leonard. 

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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 comes with me, you will not be happy, Your 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 OJ. 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 1,450 points.

He had sunglasses on that were 175 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 to the teeth, and below it, it says, Harrier Fighter, 7 million Pepsi points. The campaign was mostly a success, as sales increased significantly. But there would 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 Pepsis. Most winning Pepsis 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. 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 7 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 7 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's 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 7 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 v. 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, because 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. To keep the great American stories coming, that's OurAmericanStories.com.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-02 04:13:34 / 2023-08-02 04:17:52 / 4

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