A late-1990s television spot jokingly priced a U.S. Marine Corps Harrier jet as a possible “Pepsi Points” prize — at the mere cost of 7,000,000 Pepsi Points – that’s 16.8 million cans of Pepsi.
“Tens of millions of Americans, and people around the world saw the spot, got the joke, and laughed,” John Harris of Pepsi-Cola told CBS News in 2015 flashback story.
Most of the TV-watching public may all have laughed (or at least smiled) at the idea of a high school student doing the Harrier’s trademark vertical landing at this high school, but John Leonard wasn’t playing around.
No, Leonard didn’t buy 16.8 million cans of Pepsi, but the 21-year-old did send in 15 Pepsi Points and a check for $700,008.50, which – according to the rules of the contest – Leonard could do. Pepsi refused to give the guy his jet.
“Mr. Leonard saw the spot, hired business advisers and lawyers, and decided to take legal action,” said the Pepsi spokesman.
Leonard vs. PepsiCo, Inc. was the case of 1996. The young business student accused Pepsi of fraud and breach of contract, while Pepsi argued the commercial’s use of the jet was “just a joke.”
“People point out that this Pepsi generation they’re trying to sell to is me,” Leonard countered, but his lawsuit was thrown out in a summary judgment, saying “if it is clear that an offer was not serious [to an objective, reasonable person], then no offer has been made.” The specific language of the court’s ruling is as follows:
Plaintiff’s understanding of the commercial as an offer must also be rejected because the Court finds that no objective person could reasonably have concluded that the commercial actually offered consumers a Harrier Jet.
Even if the plaintiff won the Harrier, it would have been a mere shadow of the Calvin and Hobbes-like boyhood dream John Leonard probably imagined. In a 1996 article from CNN, the Pentagon said it would have to completely demilitarize the jet before giving it to a civilian, which means its guns and air-to-air and air-to-ground missile capability would be out, as well as its vertical takeoff, which is pretty much is the whole reason behind going through so much trouble for a Harrier.
The cost of using and maintaining a Harrier would be very expensive for the young man. The real price of a Harrier in 1996 was $33.8 million and used 11.4 gallons of fuel per minute. Leonard included $10 for shipping and handling, as per the contest rules.
PepsiCo. returned Leonard’s certified check.