Buy Pepsi products, collect Pepsi points and use them to claim prizes like t-shirts, or – for 7 million points – a Harrier jump jet.
It seemed like a simple, tongue-in-cheek concept to the marketing wizards at Pepsi in 1995; entice the ‘Pepsi Generation’ into earning points to subsequently redeem them for rewards as part of their Pepsi Stuff campaign.
The boundary-pushing, too-smart-for-its-own-good initiative was heroed with an engaging commercial that teased the possibility of using accrued points to actually redeem a fully-functioning Harrier fighter jet for 7,000,000 points – or so they jokingly thought.
To John Leonard, a 21-year-old business student, this was no joke.
“People say, ‘well didn’t you want a t-shirt?’ and I say, well when there’s a Harrier out there for 7 million Pepsi points why not aim your sights a little higher,” said Leonard, according to CBS News.
It seemed clear to everyone except him that Pepsi probably weren’t in a position to giveaway a fighter jet, but to his credit, the parametres for the promotion were clear.
After collecting a certain number of Pepsi labels, the fine print on the bottles said that consumers were allowed to purchase the remaining Pepsi points they needed to claim any item at a cost of just 10 cents apiece. Essentially, he didn’t actually need to physically buy that much Pepsi to qualify for the jet.
Leonard realised he’d only require US$700,000 to buy the points needed for the plane, which, at the time, sported a price-tag of around US$33 million.
With five wealthy investors backing his ambitious scheme, Leonard sent off a cheque for 700 grand – alongside his initial handful of Pepsi labels – to the relevant department demanding the delivery of his war machine.
While I’m sure Leonard and his compatriots would have loved to have taken the jet for a spin, it’s more likely they were confident Pepsi would settle for a sum far greater than the one they invested.
To cut a long story short, a legal battle ensued which eventually ended in a summary judgement by the courts in favour of Pepsi, ruling that “no objective person could reasonably have concluded that the commercial actually offered consumers a Harrier Jet.”
For further fine print of the legal case and to watch the commercial for yourself, check out this video from Today I Found Out’s YouTube channel.
Coincidentally, the mid-90’s was a glorious era for ostentatious airborne marketing campaigns, with Pepsi paying Air France a pretty penny in 1996 to re-brand one of their Concordes in their colours.