Back in the mid-90’s Pepsi launched their “Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff” campaign that allowed customers to earn points for every Pepsi product they purchased and then exchange them for Pepsi branded t-shirts and sunglasses, or – for 7 million points – a Harrier Jet.
The promotion was a massive success for Pepsi and those who collected their prizes using their accumulated points… except for the guy who sued them because they refused to exchange 7,000,000 Pepsi points for a Harrier Jet.
When John Leonard, a 21-year-old business student, did a little research after seeing the Pepsi Stuff TV ad, he realised that getting a Harrier Jet in exchange for 7,000,000 points was an awesome deal.
Watch the Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff commercial
In 1995, a Harrier Jet was worth around $33 million and for every 2-litre bottle of Pepsi you bought, you got 1 point. Which means you could pick-up a Harrier Jet for about $7 million is real cash.
After grabbing a copy of the Pepsi Stuff prize catalog to make sure there were no loopholes, Leonard noticed the small print stated if a customer has 15 Pepsi Points, they could purchase an unlimited number of points for 10c each. So instead of spending $7 million on Pepsi products to get his own Harrier Jet, Leonard worked out he get the jet by purchasing $700,000 worth of points. Bargain!
After sending off a cheque for the amount of $700,008.50 and waiting for his jet to be delivered, he got a response from Pepsi explaining the Harrier Jet was “not part of the offer”, nor was it included in the prize catalog, and that the offer of the jet was “fanciful.”
Understandably, Leonard wasn’t happy and replied with the following letter:
Your letter of May 7, 1996 is totally unacceptable. We have reviewed the video tape of the Pepsi Stuff commercial… and it clearly offers the new Harrier jet for 7,000,000 Pepsi points. Our client followed your rules explicitly… This is a formal demand that you honor your commitment and make immediate arrangements to transfer the new Harrier jet to our client. If we do not receive transfer instructions within ten (10) business days of the date of this letter you will leave us no choice but to file an appropriate action against Pepsi.
Strangely enough, Pepsi got the company responsible for the TV commercial to reply to Leonard stating that the offer “was clearly a joke”, adding that they found it hard to believe anyone had actually taken it seriously. It’s fair to say that Pepsi started shitting themselves and to avoid copycat lawsuits they quickly changed the points required for the jet to 700 million.
But they still had to deal with Leonard, who sued Pepsi for fraud, breach of contract and deceptive advertising.
The court case went on for three years before the courts finally ruled that not giving Leonard the Harrier wasn’t in breach of contract as no written agreement between the two parties involving the giving or receiving of a jet had been drafted or signed.
As Arthur Linton Corbin notes in Corbin on Contracts, “There would be no enforceable contract until [the] defendant [Pepsi Co.] accepted the Order Form and cashed the check.” As Pepsi did neither, there was no breach of contract.
You have to wonder, if the court’s had ruled otherwise, would Pepsi have been allowed to give a jet to Leonard? The answer, according to Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon, was no.