In 1996, PepsiCo made a costly mistake after one of their adverts promised a jet in return for ‘Pepsi points’. Out of the thousands of people who saw the advert, one young man, John Leonard took their word for it.
Leonard’s journey is the subject of the new Netflix documentary series, Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? premiering Thursday, November 17. The documentary explores how he battled against one of the biggest corporations in the world following an out-of-this-world offer made in a television commercial.
Let’s take a look at the story behind Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? as we discover what happened to the student who sued PepsiCo.
Student who sued drinks company for $25m jet
The company had just launched its Pepsi Points scheme, whereby customers could save Pepsi labels and redeem them for branded merchandise. From hats to denim jackets you could win it all, but Pepsi took it one step further. They advertised in the commercial that anyone who collected 7m labels would be eligible for a brand new Harrier jump jet.
However, Pepsi forgot to add any small print disclaimer declaring that it was a joke. So, community college student, John Leonard, took Pepsi’s word for it and made it his mission to get the jet worth $23m. Young Leonard was determined to actually get enough Pepsi Points to get the fighter jet.
The 20-year-old knew just the person he needed to reach out to in order to complete the task. He rang up Todd Hoffman, who was a successful millionaire in his 40s. The pair met on a mountaineering trip years before and when John revealed his Pepsi plan, Hoffman was onboard.
Todd Hoffman hopped on board
Buying 7 million bottles of Pepsi would be pretty expensive, but after discovering that you could buy Pepsi Points for 10 cents each all they needed was a check for $700,008.50. Hoffman wrote out the check just to receive a note from Pepsi headquarters informing them that the jet offer in the commercial was a joke. However, even a handful of coupons for a free Pepsi didn’t lessen the burn and the duo’s mission didn’t end there.
The men recruited Miami lawyer Larry Schantz to send a letter demanding Pepsi rethink its decision. However, before they could, Pepsi sued Leonard first, as per The Metro. They filed a suit in New York asking the court for a declaratory judgment stating that it had no obligation to provide Leonard and Hoffman with a Harrier jet.
Schantz then issued a countersuit, with the argument that Pepsi was obligated to give them the jet as there were no disclaimers in their commercial.
The judge comes to a decision
The ad agency that created the campaign for PepsiCo then altered the commercial twice. First, they changed the number of points needed to secure the free jet from 7,000,000 to 700,000,000. The second revision saw the offer followed by “Just Kidding.”
Pepsi then offered a settlement of $750,000, but Leonard turned it down, in hopes he would still get the jet he bargained for. In the end, a judge ruled in favor of Pepsi, stating that no reasonable person would think a jet was attainable by redeeming Pepsi Points.
What are Leonard and Hoffman doing today?
The duo remains close to this day and Leonard described Hoffman to The Guardian as: “the math that Pepsi didn’t do. They were counting on there being a ton of dreamers like me, but they just never figured a dreamer like me would ever have access to somebody that was willing to go on this crazy ride and actually would write the cheque.”
Hoffman is retired and has sadly been battling cancer since 2021. He’s going on a month-long trip around India to explore the world further.
Leonard now lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and two children, the family is also expecting a third baby. He oversees law enforcement and emergency services for the National Parks Service.