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  • Writer's pictureGuido Gurrera

Four Practical Take-Aways from Netflix’s “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?”

Updated: Feb 16

Photo (Netflix)

December 14, 2022 – Guido Gurrera

At Thanksgiving dinner this year, conversation turned to what everyone had been watching.

My father-in-law asked me, “Have you watched ‘Pepsi, Where’s my Jet?’ ”.

“No,” I responded.

As he described plot of the recently released four-part Netflix docuseries, memories of my first year of law school and Professor Madison’s contracts course came flooding back to me.

Considering that it’s been close to fifteen years since then, I had a fuzzy memory of the case and its holding.

So, I watched the docuseries. It was entertaining, it was over-the-top at points, and it was funny. It also had a lot of moments that pop-up in “real world” cases worth discussing, but a brief explanation of the story first.

*** Warning! if you haven’t watched yet there are spoilers below! ***

“Pepsi Stuff” bottle cap

Pepsi points for Pepsi Stuff

The documentary examines the background story of the unbelievable case of John Leonard vs. Pepsico, Inc. In the late 1990s, John Leonard was a young college student living in Washington state. At the time, Pepsi was running a major advertising campaign called “Pepsi Stuff.” The promotion was a basic points program – the more Pepsi you purchased, the more “points” you earned. The points could be redeemed for “stuff” like sunglasses, hats, and t-shirts. Pepsi’s advertising and commercials focused heavily on youth in an effort to differentiate itself from the older and more established Coca-Cola.

Pepsi’s “Harrier” commercial

One particular Pepsi commercial sparked the imagination of John Leonard. The commercial, titled “Harrier”, can be seen here on YouTube.

It begins with a shot of a normal looking suburban home and cuts to a teenaged boy wearing a white t-shirt with a large blue and red Pepsi logo. Military-style music plays and “T-SHIRT 750 POINTS” taps across the screen. In the next shot the boy walks confidently down the hallway in a black leather jacket …

LEATHER JACKET 1450 PEPSI POINTS”. He exits the front door and puts on sunglasses … SHADES 175 PEPSI POINTS.” The narrator voices-over, “Introducing the new Pepsi Stuff catalogue.”

Now the fun starts. A high school classroom full of students is shown. Suddenly, the wind swirls uncontrollably. Pages of books flutter and loose papers fly about in the air. The window blinds blow inward from the open windows. The music builds. The classroom chalkboard cracks.

Students look out the windows and see a grey jet slowly lowering to the ground just outside on the school lawn. The narrator explains, “Now the more Pepsi you drink the more great stuff you’re going to get”. The cockpit of the jet opens, and the protagonist, with a can of Pepsi in hand “sure beats the bus” and scoffs before he climbs down from the aircraft.

7,000,000 PEPSI POINTS”, taps across the screen as the music crescendos.

A Pepsi logo appears with large font “DRINK PEPSI GET STUFF” as the kid walks away from the jet. The End. No context. No fine print or disclaimer to indicate that this may be a joke.

Enter John Leonard

John Leonard was mesmerized by the “Harrier” commercial. So he hatched a plan to collect get enough points to win the jet.

As the docu-series explains, he initially tried to drink 7,000,000 points worth of Pepsi but soon realized that was not going to happen. Eventually, John learned that the Pepsi Stuff campaign allowed people to purchase Pepsi Points for ten cents each. John calculated that 7,000,000 Pepsi Points would cost $700,000.

John next contacted investors, raised the cash, and sent a check for the points to Pepsi claiming the jet. Pepsi responded, saying the commercial was obviously a joke. Eventually, lawsuits were filed – one on Pepsi’s behalf and one on John’s behalf. John argued that Pepsi’s commercial was a valid offer for the jet. He delivered the points and deserved the plane. Pepsi’s position was that the offer of a jet was in jest, and no reasonable person could believe it was a real offer.

A person couldn’t even legally own a Harrier jet Pepsi argued. Therefore, Pepsi did not owe him anything. After years of battling, and an unknown amount of money spent in the fight, Pepsi ultimately prevailed in Court and John walked away with nothing.

Pepsi Cola Ad.

Legal Takeaways

The docu-series maximizes the drama of the case. Nevertheless, there are several take-aways that can be applied to more routine cases:

(1) Perspective matters – how you see one fact or argument can be seen different by someone else.

The crux of the case turned on whether Pepsi’s commercial could be reasonably interpreted as an offer to provide the jet for 7 million points. “It was clearly a joke,” said Brian Swette, Pepsi’s Chief Marketing Officer at the time. “People don’t offer military hardware as prizes.”

But to 20-year-old John Leonard, it was dead serious. The Court ultimately sided with Pepsi but the docu-series demonstrates that the answer may not have been as clear as the judge believed. Perspective is important.

People bring their age, background, education, life experiences, biases, and opinions to bear when assessing a case. A good attorney needs to identify aspects of a case that may viewed differently by the other side (or jurors) and find a way to change their mind.

(2) It’s better to be safe than sorry.

More precisely, in this case it would have been better to be clear than sorry. Pepsi easily could have made clear that it was a joke. By adding “Just kidding” to the advertisement, inserting fine print that clarified it was not a real offer, or by changing the number to 7 gazillion points. Any of these would have avoided the confusion.

Instead, Pepsi (perhaps lazily, perhaps accidentally, or perhaps intentionally) left the offer somewhat vague and open to interpretation as to whether it was legitimate. This cost Pepsi bad press and years of battling it out in court. This is a good principle to follow when negotiating. An offer should be clear about its terms; whether there are contingencies attached; how long the offer remains open; and any other essential points.

Don’t leave room for interpretation.

(3) Dispute resolution can be a valuable tool.

Early on in the docu-series, John Leonard is summoned with his attorney to a meeting with Pepsi’s legal brass. Pepsi allegedly offers $1 million to John to drop his case. His team seems surprised by the offer. John flippantly declines and defiantly rejects the money.

Later on, John wonders if he should have accepted the cash. The scene was clearly exaggerated and stereotyped, but almost every “real world” cases will involve some type of negotiation. Many courts mandate that the parties try to work it out before proceeding to trial. Whether it is informal settlement discussions, or a more formal form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), such as mediation, arbitration, or early neutral evaluation, these processes provide parties with an opportunity to mitigate risk, reduce costs, save time, and obtain finality.

They also give the parties a say in the ultimate outcome. Not every case settles. Some cases have to be tried for one reason or another. The story leads us to believe that John’s team entered the meeting with Pepsi off guard.

Instead, they should have come in prepared with an appreciation for their chance of success, the “worth” of their case, and the level of risk they were willing to take. This would have helped John make a more informed and reasoned decision in declining the money.

(4) Get the right people on your team.

One common misconception is that lawyers know everything about the law.

Unfortunately, there is simply too much “law” out there for any one attorney to master. A metaphor helps explain this – “Would you go to your dentist if you have a heart problem?” Obviously, the answer is no. Not all doctors can handle all medical problems. The same goes for attorneys. When you have a case, you need to find the right attorney. You need an attorney who has experience handling your particular type of case.

The docu-series demonstrates the pitfalls of hiring the wrong lawyer.

According to the story, John and his investor, Todd Hoffman, initially turned to a bankruptcy lawyer to represent them. This attorney may have been great at getting his clients out of debt, but he wasn’t skilled in contracts or litigation. And it was well into the case before John Leonard connected with a proper litigation firm.

By that point, the damage was done. Pepsi already had taken to the offensive and sued John, choosing to do so in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

This forum provided Pepsi with favorable law and a Judge that was unsympathetic to John’s arguments. These are likely two big reasons why Pepsi ultimately won. If John had the right attorney from the get-go, perhaps these mistakes could have been avoided and the outcome may have been different.

In this situation, don’t be a John Leonard. If you are faced with any issue that must be solved in court, you need the right people on your side. You need an attorney like Guido Gurrera, from Gurrera Law.

Guido is a Personal Injury Attorney based in Pittsburgh, PA and licensed in Pennsylvania and Ohio. He has successfully handled hundreds of cases in my career and recovered millions of dollars for his clients.

If you or a loved one have been hurt in an injury, call Guido Gurrera today for a free consultation, and fair compensation.

This blog is not intended to be legal advice.


Phone 412-229-7757


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