Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?, a Netflix documentary miniseries follows two friends, John Leonard and Todd Hoffman, who took on multi-billion dollar company Pepsi in a bid to exploit a loophole in one of their ads and force them to give the pair a military grade Harrier jet. The amazing true story happened in the 1990s at the height of the Cola wars as Pepsi and Coca-Cola spent millions of dollars on extravagant ads adverts as they tried to win over their rival’s customers. But Pepsi certainly wasn’t expecting to be taken to court over a piece of kit worth tens of millions of dollars.
Who is John Leonard?
John Leonard was a student when he got his 15 minutes of fame by taking on multi-billion dollar soft drinks giant PepsiCo in the late ‘90s. Leonard saw Pepsi’s 1996 advert, which explained that Pepsi drinkers could gain Pepsi points by buying bottles and cans of the product - they could then trade the points for different goodies.
The ad showed that 90 Pepsi points could net you a t-shirt, 120 points could be traded for a pair of sunglasses, and 1,400 points was worth a leather jacket. At the end of the advert, a teenage boy lands a Harrier Jet outside a school and quips ‘sure beats the bus’. Then, crucially, text flashes stating that the jet could be traded for 7 million Pepsi points.
It would have cost Leonard millions to bulk buy enough cans of Pepsi, pay for warehouses to store them, and hire staff to peel the coupons - daunted, he found another way to beat the system.
Pepsi has also stated that Pepsi points could be bought for 10 cents each, so Leonard teamed up with his friend, and business owner Todd Hoffman. The pair met whilst mountain climbing, and despite Todd being two decades older, they became close friends.
Leonard and Hoffman attempted to give Pepsi their cheque for $700,000, but were rebuffed by the company who said that the ad was an obvious joke. Eventually the case was taken to court in 1999.
Did John Leonard get a Harrier jet?
No, John was unsuccessful in court, the case, which became known as the Pepsi Points Case, was presided over by judge Kimba Wood. Whilst Leonard claimed that he was entitled to a Harrier jet as there was no disclaimer on the advert, Wood found in favour of PepsiCo.
She said that no reasonable person would believe that the advert constituted a serious offer. Hoffman stated that Wood supported Pepsi in the case because she was a corporate lawyer.
What happened to John Leonard?
It’s been 25 years since Leonard took on Pepsi, and he seems to be over his lack of Harrier jet. Now, aged 48 he is living in Talkeetna, Alaska and works as a national Park Ranger. He has a wife named Dottie and the couple have a daughter and son. He and Hoffman have remained friends and recently embarked on an expedition to climb Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica.
Speaking to The Guardian this month, Hoffman said of Leonard: “He’s certifiably insane. He holds a job. He has a beautiful family. He has a house and pays a mortgage and goes to work every day, but he’s got some real mental things going on. Way outside the box.”
Leonard and Hoffman both feature in the Netflix documentary - on the trailer Leonard explains that he really just wanted the jet. He has since said that he really believed that he would be successful and didn’t pursue Pepsi because he wanted publicity.