In 1995, John Leonard was a 20-year-old school scholar close to Seattle, teaching little league soccer on the facet and dreaming about a future in enterprise. Then, an empty soda bottle modified his life endlessly.
Leonard’s uncommon journey is the topic of the brand new Netflix documentary collection, “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?” premiering Thursday. It appears at how he soared towards one of many greatest companies on the earth over an outlandish supply made in a tv industrial.
During the mid-Nineties, the cola wars have been operating sizzling. In a bid to get jaded Gen Xers to decide on it over Coca-Cola, Pepsi launched the idea of Pepsi factors, which may very well be redeemed for merch. After years of lofty slogans, the promoting was all of the sudden surprisingly blunt: “Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff.”
A fountain drink obtained you one level, a 2-liter bottle was two factors, and a 12-pack was value 5 factors. Prizes included baseball caps (60 factors) and T-shirts (80 factors) with a few large ticket gadgets like mountain bikes (1000’s). One upbeat tv advert went as far as to promote that a navy grade Harrier jet may very well be had for a whopping 7,000,000 factors.
The comical industrial didn’t function any kind of disclaimer, effective print or authorized discover telling viewers it was all a joke. Leonard turned obsessive about really getting sufficient factors to get the fighter jet.
“I began pondering, geez, how may you really make this work,” Leonard mentioned. “But I can’t make it occur. And I have needed to discover a loopy associate within the deal. And fortunately, I occur to know someone that match the invoice.”
He rang up Todd Hoffman, a longtime pal who’d already loved appreciable success in enterprise. The two had met on a mountaineering expedition, and Hoffman thought-about himself one thing of a skilled mentor to Leonard. When the youthful man declared his Pepsi ambitions, Hoffman mentioned he was in.
He mentioned he’d assist him get the jet, and collectively they’d begin a firm to lease and lease out the airplane for air reveals, movie shoots and different occasions. To ensure that their ambitions have been kosher, Leonard hopped on the cellphone to Boeing and the Pentagon, asking — below the guise of a faculty challenge — if a civilian may really personal a Harrier jet.
Chief Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon advised the younger entrepreneur that so long as the plane was not armed nor had radar jamming know-how, the reply was sure.
Hoffman had Leonard draft a detailed marketing strategy, and they set to work. Actually racking up the 7 million proved to be nothing in need of an ordeal.
Leonard’s first thought was a bottle deposit racket requiring six warehouses, a number of vans, and a crew of drivers to buy and retailer the bottles over a interval of months. The estimated value was $3.4 million and would require 16M drinks. Hoffman despatched his younger protégé again to the drafting board.
Then, whereas shopping a Pepsi catalog in a comfort retailer close to his house, Leonard discovered a loophole, down within the effective print. Pepsi Points, it mentioned, may very well be bought for ten cents apiece.
Just like that, Leonard’s plan lastly –and easily — grew its wings.
All that stood in the best way of his dream now was a verify for $700,008.50 — the particular quantity making an allowance for the handful of Pepsi Points the 2 had already accrued — which Hoffman fortunately wrote.
After weeks of anxious ready, the verify was returned within the mail with a observe from Pepsi headquarters, telling the pair that the inclusion of the Harrier jet within the industrial was nothing greater than a joke. For their bother, they got a fistful of coupons without cost soda.
Neither Leonard nor Hoffman have been inclined to take no for a solution. They recruited Miami lawyer Larry Schantz to ship a letter that demanding Pepsi make good on their association.
Schantz hadn’t even gotten round to dropping the letter within the mail when, in 1996, the soda large filed go well with in New York, asking the court docket for a declaratory judgment stating that it had no obligation to supply Leonard and Hoffman with a Harrier jet.
The supply, Michael Avenatti, and a trial
Schantz scrambled, instantly issuing a countersuit, with the easy argument that Pepsi was obligated to supply the jet as acknowledged clearly, provided that there was no effective print or disclaimers of their industrial.
Simultaneously, the corporate started exhibiting indicators of insecurity in its advert. In the docuseries, Michael Patti, then a inventive director at BBDO Worldwide, the advert company that created the marketing campaign for PepsiCo, revealed that anxious executives requested him to revise the industrial twice.
The first time, they modified the variety of factors wanted to safe the free jet from 7,000,000 to 700,000,000 — the extra absurd quantity Patti mentioned he initially proposed. The second revision noticed the now sky-high quantity adopted by a parenthetical “Just Kidding.”
The modifications, Patti says, have been “an act of contrition.”
Soon after, Pepsi provided Leonard and Hoffman a settlement of $750,000, however Leonard mentioned no. He wished that damned jet.
“Now, positive, [I would have settled],” Leonard mentioned. “But I nonetheless get a kick out of the truth that I had the chutzpah at the moment to truly come to that conclusion. Probably wasn’t the neatest resolution I’ve ever made in my life.”
A younger sizzling shot lawyer-to-be named Michael Avenatti joined their trigger, dealing with media relations for the case for a quick time.
“I thought we may get the jet,” Avenatti says within the documentary. “We have been gonna must carry public strain, by the use of some aggressive public relations actions. A full court docket press with the media.”
Ultimately, a choose guidelines in favor of Pepsi, saying no cheap particular person would suppose a Harrier jet was attainable by claiming Pepsi reward factors.
“The choose got here down with this sort of snarky ruling — smug, hubristic,” mentioned Hoffman.
While they didn’t get their jet — or a fats settlement — Leonard and Hoffman did make an impression, resulting in an period the place disclaimers are an integral a part of many commercials.
“Twenty 5 years later, everyone’s finding out this at regulation faculty,” director Andrew Renzi advised The Post. “You may argue that this may need been the largest factor to occur within the cola wars. Advertising modified endlessly.”
Hoffman is retired and has been battling most cancers because the fall of 2021. He’s planning a five-week journey to India quickly the place he’ll do nothing however discover and journey.
Leonard now lives in Washington, DC, along with his spouse, two youngsters and a third on the best way. He oversees regulation enforcement and emergency companies for the National Parks service.
“I’m a procrastinator,” he mentioned. “Or let’s put it good and say I’m a late bloomer.”