If you remember anything about the 90s, you’ll surely remember the garish fashion and the gratis articles given out with every other FMCG product.
So, sometime in the 90s Pepsi came up with a contest wherein you could earn ‘Pepsi Stuff’ in lieu of ‘Pepsi Points’. Pepsi Points could be earned by drinking Pepsi or purchased for a specific amount (10 cents per Pepsi Point). These points could then be exchanged for Pepsi Stuff like sunglasses, leather jackets and caps.
You could order the Pepsi Stuff from a catalogue if the article wasn’t readily available. The interesting thing though, was the commercial. In its bid to be cool, it showed the lead character entering school in a Harrier fighter jet, implied to be bought in exchange of 7 million Pepsi Points.
This was all the opportunity that John Leonard, a business student from Seattle needed. He calculated that the cost of 7 million Pepsi Points would be $700,000. He convinced 5 investors to finance him. He sent Pepsi 15 labels and a cheque, asking them to send him his Harrier fighter plane. The problem, as is evident, was that Pepsi meant it as a joke – the jet wasn’t even part of the catalogue, just the advertisement – and sent him some free coupons and his money back, explaining the same. Besides, the fighter jet cost $33 million dollars and even if Pepsi wanted to, the US government would have had a thing or two to say about handing out fighter planes to civilians.
If that’s not the look of determination, what is?
Our hero would have none of it though and sent Pepsi an ultimatum – the jet or a court date (he already had a team of lawyers prepared)! In the end the case dragged on for about 3 years and John Leonard agreed to reach a settlement. Although Pepsi technically won the case, they had to spend about $90,000 defending the case. Pepsi also updated the number of points in the commercial from 7 million to 700 million. And as a final consequence, most advertisements, however improbable and crazy, carry a disclaimer so as to discourage future John Leonards.