The Pepsi Fighter Jet Giveaway That Seriously Backfired On The Company

Have you ever told a joke to a group of people and there's that one person who doesn't get it? They may stare at you scratching their head and try to point out why the logistics of what you just said wouldn't work, thus just spoiling it in the process. What if the joke was actually made by a television commercial, namely the Pepsi-Cola corporation? Sometimes, people — and corporations alike — think the meaning is obvious and make the mistake of not explaining the fine print, like the commercial promoting a Pepsi campaign back in the 1990s. 

The ad, promoting the new "Pepsi Catalogue" where you could earn points by buying the soda, featured a teen landing a fighter jet outside a high school. The voice-over stated, "Now, the more Pepsi you drink the more great stuff you're going to get." Then, flashing up on the screen, as the kid coolly gets out of the plane saying, "Sure beats the bus," flash the words, "Harrier Fighter 7,000,000 Pepsi Points."

As one interviewer in the Netflix documentary states, "It's clearly a joke. People don't offer military hardware as prizes." However, one man didn't see it that way.

The reason for obvious disclaimers

You've probably seen plenty of disclaimers that made you raise an eyebrow. For example, Reese's Pretzels dipped in peanut butter candy had to be recalled in Australia because they didn't have a warning saying, "contains peanuts." There's also the takeaway coffee cup that says "caution: contents are hot" because of a lawsuit that awarded a woman over $2 million in compensation for coffee that caused third-degree burns, according to Readers' Digest

Unfortunately, companies tend to learn the hard way that no disclaimer means someone might just take them up on the offer of a military fighter jet for Pepsi Points. In 1995, business student, John Leonard, a 21-year-old from Seattle, saw the advertisement and took it very seriously. The Pepsi Points Catalogue mentioned that if a buyer didn't have enough Pepsi points, "additional points could be purchased for 10c each as long as the order included 15 actual Pepsi points". The catalog did not contain the Harrier Jet. 

CBS reported that despite this, Leonard sent in 15 Pepsi Points and a certified check for $700,008.50 — money that he had received from five business investors. When Pepsi went to court in an attempt to declare Leonard's request "frivolous", he retaliated with a lawsuit of his own — which he didn't win — and — just in case anyone else tried to order a Harrier Jet, Pepsi updated its commercial to state the cost was now $700 million Pepsi Points and the disclaimer "Just kidding".