In 1995, John Leonard was a 20-year-old college freshman near Seattle, coaching minor league football on the side and dreaming of a future in business. Then, an empty soda bottle changed his life forever.
Leonard’s extraordinary journey is the subject of the new Netflix Documentary series, “Where’s My Pepsi?” Premiere Thursday. He looks at how he went up against one of the biggest corporations in the world over a freak show made in a TV commercial.
During the mid-1990s, the cola wars were raging. try to Gen Xers get exhausted To choose it instead of Coca-Cola, Pepsi introduced the concept of Pepsi Points, which can be redeemed for goods. After years of lofty slogans, the ad suddenly became blunt: “Drink Pepsi and get things done. ”
A fountain drink got you one point, a two-liter bottle was two points, and a 12-pack was worth five points. Prizes included baseball caps (60 points) and T-shirts (80 points) along with a few big ticket items like mountain bikes (thousands). An optimistic TV advertisement went so far as to announce the possibility of obtaining a military-grade Harrier for 7 million points.
The comic ad did not include any kind of disclaimer, fine print, or legal notice telling viewers that it was just a joke. Leonard is already obsessed with getting enough points to get on the fighter plane.
“I started thinking, ‘How can you really make this work,'” Leonard said. “But I can’t make it happen. And I had to find a crazy partner in the deal. Luckily, I met someone who fit the bill.”
He contacted Todd Hoffman, an old friend who had already enjoyed great success in business. The two met on a mountaineering expedition, and Hoffmann considered himself a professional mentor to Leonard. When the younger man announced his Pepsi ambitions, Hoffman said he was in.
He said that he would help him get the plane, and together they would create a company that charters and leases the plane for air shows, filming movies, and other events. To make sure their ambitions were kosher, Leonard hopped on the phone to Boeing and the Pentagon, asking—under the guise of a school project—whether a civilian could actually own a Harrier.
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon told the young businessman that as long as the plane was not armed and did not have radar jamming technology, the answer was yes.
Hoffman had Leonard draft a detailed business plan, and they set to work. Indeed, collecting the 7 million turned out to be nothing short of an ordeal.
Leonard’s first idea was a bottle deposit racket that required six warehouses, multiple trucks, and a team of drivers to purchase and store bottles over a period of months. The estimated cost was $3.4 million and it would require 16 million drinks. Hoffmann sent his young student to the drawing board.
Then, while browsing the Pepsi catalog at a store near his home, Leonard found a loophole in the fine print. She added that Pepsi points can be purchased for ten cents apiece.
Just like that, Leonard’s plan has finally — and simply put — grown its wings.
All that stood in the way of his dream now was a check for $700,008.50 — the exact number considering how few Pepsi Points the two had already — which Hoffman happily wrote.
After weeks of anxious waiting, the check was mailed back with a note from Pepsi headquarters, telling the couple that Harrier’s airplane inclusion in the commercial was nothing more than a joke. Because of their trouble, they were given a bunch of coupons for a free soft drink.
Neither Leonard nor Hoffmann were inclined to refuse to answer. They enlist Miami attorney Larry Shantz to send a letter demanding that Pepsi perform their arrangement.
Schantz hadn’t even managed to drop the letter in the mail when the soft drink giant sued in New York in 1996, asking the court to issue a declaratory judgment stating that it had no obligation to provide Leonard and Hoffman with a Harrier. .
Presenter Michael Avenatti and Experience
Schantz hurried, and promptly issued a counterclaim, arguing simply that Pepsi was obligated to produce the plane as clearly stated, given the lack of fine print or disclaimers in its commercial.
At the same time, the company started showing signs of insecurity in its advertising. In the docuseries, Michael Baty, then creative director at BBDO Worldwide, the advertising agency that created the PepsiCo campaign, revealed that worried executives asked him to double-check the commercial.
The first time around, they changed the number of points needed to secure the free plane from 7,000,000 to 700,000,000 – the most ridiculous number Patty said he originally proposed. The second revision saw the now high number followed by “Just Kidding”.
Patty says the changes were “an admission of guilt.”
Soon after, Pepsi offered Leonard and Hoffman a $750,000 settlement, but Leonard said no. He wanted that damn plane.
“Now, of course, [I would have settled]Leonard said. “But I still came away from the fact that I had the chutzpah at the time to actually come to that conclusion. It probably wasn’t the smartest decision I ever made in my life.”
Young hot shot The attorney, who will be named, is Michael Avenatti They joined their cause, and he handled media relations for the cause for a short time.
“I thought we could get on the plane,” Avenatti says in the documentary. We would have had to apply public pressure, through some aggressive PR measures. A court press complete with the media.”
In the end, the judge rules for PepsiCosaying that no sane person would believe that a Harrier could be obtained by claiming Pepsi reward points.
“The judge came up with this kind of egregious sentence – arrogant, arrogant,” said Hoffman.
While they never got their plane—or a full settlement—Leonard and Hoffman made an impact, ushering in an era when disclaimers became an integral part of many commercials.
“Twenty-five years later, everyone studies this in law school,” Principal Andrew Renzi told The Post. “You could argue that this was probably the biggest thing that happened in the cola wars. Advertising changed forever.”
Hoffman has been retired and has been battling cancer since the fall of 2021. He is planning a five-week trip to India soon where he will do nothing but explore and adventure.
Leonard now lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, two children, and a third on the way. Oversees law enforcement and emergency services for the National Park Service.
He said, “I’m procrastinating.” “Or let’s put it nicely and say I’m a late bloomer.”