The Time Someone Sued Pepsi for a $33 Million Fighter Jet
In 1996, PepsiCo ran an advertisement that offered a Harrier fighter jet in exchange for 7,000,000 Pepsi points.
The story of Leonard v. PepsiCo is the stuff of legends.
No matter how much we support capitalism superficially, deep in our hearts we all secretly dream of a common man screwing over a multibillion dollars corporation just for the satisfaction of it.
With the increasing accumulation of wealth amongst the top 1% of people in the world, the wealth gap has become gigantic.
The poor become poorer, and the rich become richer. The comparison has become starker with the Covid-19 crisis — owners of companies like Amazon increased their net worth by millions of dollars while small business owners around the world became bankrupt and a lot of people went into financial ruin.
It can be argued that no other economic form exists that is better than capitalism, but it is apparent that capitalism is not necessarily good for everyone.
It is, we might say, the lesser evil. Without further ado, let’s look at the case of Leonard v. PepsiCo.
It was just a joke!!!
The Leonard v. PepsiCo might be remembered by some as the Pepsi points case.
Leonard filed a case against Pepsi to redeem an AV-8 Harrier II jet which was valued at more than 33 million dollars at the time, a jet that Pepsi had shown in its television commercial.
Leonard filed a case on the basis that since Pepsi had shown the jet in its ad, it was now obligated to give it to him for his points or he would file a case of fraudulent advertisement.
Pepsi’s argument that it was just a joke, a piece of humorous advertisement meant to attract the audience.
Harrier fighter for 7,000,000 Pepsi points
The ad starts with three boys sitting outside a high school, drinking Pepsi, while inside one of the classrooms a boring physics lecture is going on.
Suddenly, military drums begin to sound and the emerging boom of an airplane is heard, upon which everyone becomes excited.
The ground rumbles, papers and pieces of trash begin to fly everywhere, and lo and behold, Harrier jet land in front of the school.
The force of the wind is so strong that it rips the clothes off of a teacher, and leaves him standing in his underwear.
The cockpit of the Harrier jet opens and a brash, grinning teenager jumps out from it, the epitome of coolness from the eyes of a teenager, and says “Sure beats the bus”.
The following message appears “Harrier fighter 7,000,000 Pepsi points”, and that is where the advertisement ends.
Leonard’s million-dollar scheme
Leonard was a very crafty man and a business student at that. Pepsi points were meant to be collected through purchasing different Pepsi products.
Leonard started out with 15 points and then spent around seven hundred thousand dollars to obtain the rest of the points.
With the 7,000,000 points in hand, he challenged Pepsi in court when they denied giving him the harrier jet. Sadly, though, the court rejected the argument that Leonard presented on multiple bases.
The court said that it was unreasonable to expect a company to give away something that cost more than 30 million dollars based on a mere 700,000 dollar investment by a customer.
And since there had been no written contract that stated that the company would give over an actual harrier jet to the person who could accumulate 7,000,000 Pepsi points, the company was not obliged to do that.
The court stated the following:
“In light of the Harrier Jet’s well-documented function in attacking and destroying the surface and 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 are clearly not serious even if, as plaintiff contends, the jet is capable of being acquired ‘in a form that eliminates [its] potential for military use.”
What happened next?
Leonard was not ready to give up his dreams of a harrier jet just yet. He challenged the case in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but the court stood by the original decision.
Even if we rationally think of it, there is no way any sane judge was going to rule the decision in Leonard’s favor, the reason why initially Leonard wanted his case to be presided over by a jury from the “Pepsi generation” so that he and his lawyer could beguile them and emotionally win them over by compelling arguments.
The fact remains that whatever happened in the ad had no basis in reality. A teenage boy is unlikely to get the keys to his parent’s car, never mind a fighter jet. It is impossible that the government would ever allow an inexperienced pilot to operate a military aircraft with an arsenal of weapons at its disposal in a residential area.
The possibilities of things that could go wrong are endless. Finally, it was obviously a joke to appeal to teenage fantasies.
PepsiCo did not take down the ad, however, they increased the points required from 7,000,000 to 700,000,000 for the jet, and added a “Just Kidding” disclaimer at the end to be safe.
It is nonetheless an entertaining story, to hear about a man who gave PepsiCo a run for their money over an advertisement. The rationality behind what Leonard was trying to achieve is highly impractical.
He invested 700,000 dollars and hoped to make 30 million dollars out of it. If you are going to invest that much money into a pipe dream to scam a multinational organization, you should at least do your homework and check if the loopholes that you are hoping to exploit actually exist.
It is possible that Leonard would have managed to win a lot of money, if not the actual jet if he had done his homework and found that the loopholes in the law to corner PepsiCo actually existed.