In The 1990s, A Man Sued Pepsi For Their Failure To Award Him Which Of The Following As A Contest Prize?
Answer: A Harrier Fighter Jet
In the mid-1990s, Pepsi ran a successful ad campaign surrounding “Pepsi Stuff”. Pepsi Stuff was a customer loyalty program much like Marlboro Points, wherein customers could redeem Pepsi “Points” for products like branded T-shirts, sweatshirts, leather jackets, sunglasses, and more.
The most popular ad in the campaign was a TV ad spot that showed a teenage boy getting ready for school while putting on the gear he’d acquired through the Pepsi Stuff catalog, including the aforementioned T-shirt, jacket, and sunglasses… only to blast off to school in an AV-8 Harrier II jump jet. When he lands at school and announces, “Sure beats the bus.” and exits the jet, onscreen text indicates that you could redeem 7,000,000 points for the jet.
It would be rather impractical to collect 7,000,000 Pepsi Points the old fashioned way (by, you know, drinking millions of servings of Pepsi), but there was some fine print in the promotion. People could, if they were so inclined, buy Pepsi points for $0.10 a point. This meant that if for some reason you didn’t want to drink a lot of Pepsi, but really, really wanted a Pepsi leather jacket, then you could buy the points (spending $145 in cash instead of accumulating 1,450 points by drinking Pepsi, later changed to 1,200 points and $120). A very ambitious someone, John Leonard, decided he would cash in on their offer of a fighter jet by buying 6,999,985 Pepsi Points (a cost of $700,008.50, which also included the shipping and handling fee) to add to the actual 15 he had. While seemingly insane, it really does work out to be quite a bargain since an actual AV-8 Harrier II jump jet was valued at $33.8 million at the time.
When Pepsi didn’t give him the Harrier jet, pointing out that it was just an ad and that realistically there was no way they were going to get their hands on a current generation military plane to give to a person in a contest, Leonard took them to court. The case hinged on Pepsi being in breach of contract with Leonard but, as you can imagine, it was ruled in favor of Pepsi on the grounds that 1)
the advertisement featuring the jet did not constitute an offer under the Restatement (Second) of Contracts, 2) no reasonable person would believe that Pepsi would offer a military jet at approximately 98 percent off the actual cost, and 3) putting aside the first two points, the value of the alleged contract required it to be put into writing (of which there was no written agreement between Leonard and Pepsi), which means there was no grounds to argue it was even a contract in the first place.
Not only did Leonard not receive his jet, but Pepsi continued to run the ad and simply cranked up the price from 7,000,000 Pepsi Points to 700,000,000 Pepsi Points, putting the purchase price at roughly twice the real world value of the jet at that time.
Image courtesy of Pepsi.