I remember the commercial and the controversy. PepsiCo was running a promotion to get people to buy more products, they could collect points to send in for merchandise with Pepsi logos. The idea that people would want to wear a Pepsi jacket or sunglasses didn’t appeal to me but maybe it would to some other people. I grew up in Georgia near Atlanta where every soft drink is referred to as a Coke.
But Pepsi often beat Coke in the commercials introducing the world to a young Cindy Crawford and having grizzly bears perform “YMCA.” Still Coke was winning the Cola Wars even if they had animated polar bears just drinking bottles of the drink and smiling. In the mid-1990s, during the promotion, they would feature a teenage boy getting all this swag. Then, the commercial would end with him flying a Harrier jet to his school.
The ad was the brainchild of ad agency BBDO, which had done several commercials with Pepsi before so this one couldn’t fail, right? Wrong. You can see the ad here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdackF2H7Qc
If you noticed something wrong, then so did a lot of other people. You could get a Harrier jet for 7 million points. There was no disclaimer that it was a joke. Pepsi seemed serious. If a store has a BOGO commercial, you expect to get the second purchase half-off or free. Pepsii was going to offer you a jet if you could collect 7 million points. Well, no. They were just joking. They even indicated in the commercials that ran in Canada, it was just a joke. Unfortunatley, they didn’t indicate the same to American’s audiences.
And a young man in Seattle named John Leonard was determined come Hell or high water to get that jet. That is the subject of Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? currently streaming on Netflix. He even contacted a friend of his, Todd Hoffman, who he had gotten to know because they shared a passion of mountain climbing/hiking and other adventures. Hoffman, who is older than Leonard, also had a lot of money. And Hoffman is the wild man to Leonard suburbanite straight man meaning he is just crazy enough to follow Leonard on this endeavor, no matter how long it takes.
While purchasing cases of Pepsi seemed too costly, Leonard happened to find a loophole in a booklet where you could purchase one point for 10 cents a piece. Do the math and that’s only $700,000 for a jet that is worth 50 times that much. And since Leonard contacted a Pentagon spokesperson Kenneth Bacon, it is perfectly legal to own a Harriet jet if you’re a regular citizen as long as it has no armanents on it.
Of course, the $64,000 question is what in the sam hill can you do with a Harrier jet you’re not trained on. You can’t take people for rides because it only seats the pilot. The idea of airshows is thrown about but how many airshows can there be that would turn a profit. I get the feeling that Hoffman who asked Leonard to show him the commercial repeatedly saw a loophole he could also exploit.
The docuseries on Netflix does delve into a problem that happened in the Phillipines a few years before where they offered a lottery to people collecting bottle tops with a number underneath. But a computer glitch reading 349 resulting in many people being the winner and Pepsi just shrugging their shoulders and offering people the equivalent of $20 American. And in the end, Leonard also gets a nice letter saying that it was all joke that shouldn’t be taken seriously, but since they are good sports, they will give him two coupons for free cases of Pepsi.
While Leonard didn’t go mad like what happeneed in the Phillipines in 1992 where rioting broke out and at least five people were killed, he did something more American. He sued them. And this led to a long legal battle over the years as we’re introduced to a lot of people. Crawford, herself, is interviewed. And then there’s Michael Avenatti entering the mix to help Leonard and drive a wedge between his relationship with Hoffman. If you don’t know who Avenatti is, you weren’t paying attention during the whole Stormy Daniels incident with Donald Trump.
Avenatti, who wasnt much older than Leonard, wanted to run campaign ads basically giving the middle finger to Pepsi. And Hoffman was afraid these ads might result in not only them losing the case, but facing more lawsuits. In a shameless but powerful attempt, Pepsi sued Leoanard first so they could control the district where the case was held, which was their home based, which was southern district of New York.
Not to give too much away, but the case has been studied in many law schools over the years. It should have been a warning about the dangers of false advertising. Director Andrew Renzi doesn’t make mention of the infamous Hooters Toyota/Toy Yoda scandal which happened down in Florida when restaurant management told the wait staff they would award the winner of a contest with a new Toyota. They even made people think they would be winning a car and led the winner blindfolded out to the parking lot, but it was actually a toy Yoda doll. There was also a case in Kentucky where a radio promised the 10th called “100 Grand” but a woman discovered that it was intended as a joke and that she was given a 100 Grand candy bar. She also sued but I think both cases were settled out of court.
My guess is Renzi didn’t include them because they didn’t pertain to Pepsi and they both happened after the court case had been decided. Strangely, The Simpsons had predicted something similar to this in 1994 when Bart wins a radio contest where the prize is either money or an elephant. When he claims to want the elephant, the radio station tries to stonewall him.
I remember one time when I was working at the newspaper in Wagoner, Okla., a political ad ran in the paper without the notice of who it was purchased by. I don’t remember the whole story because I wasn’t the news editor at the time, but it was an issue involving the ad representative at the time. A few years later, we had to pull an entire full-page color ad because it was implying a candidate was a drunk.
It’s best to cover your ass in the media. We do find out that BBDO did actually make it a bigger number than 7 million but someone said the zeros was too heavy on the eyes so it was reduced. But at the heart of the four-part docuseries that is about two and a half hours long is the ever-lasting friendship between Leonard and Hoffman through a bunch of highs and lows. These two colorful characters make you root for them even when you think they’re probably going to get the shaft.
Renzi also has interviewees do a taste test between Coca-Cola and Pepsi and I think you’d be surprised by the results.
What do you think? Please comment.