'Pepsi, Where's My Jet?' Offers Lessons For Marketers, Agencies


Image above: John Leonard, the guy who wanted a Harrier jet from Pepsi.


In mid-November, exactly two weeks after Netflix began taking advertising, the streamer premiered “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?” Although this four-part documentary features a Pepsi commercial and lots of Pepsi product, it’s about as far as you can get from either a paid sponsorship or a product placement deal.

Instead, “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?” turns out to be a suspenseful case history of a marketing campaign that takes a possible wrong turn. It’s set in the 1990s, the campaign is “Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff,” and the featured commercial offered viewers merchandise rewards in exchange for buying Pepsi -- including a Harrier military jet.

Or did it? Despite the lack of a disclaimers in the spot, PepsiCo claimed the jet offer was a joke. A 21-year-old, John Leonard, took it seriously. Or did he? Whichever, Leonard set out to claim his Harrier jet.



He teamed up with an older businessman named Todd Hoffman. Together they took on PepsiCo in a case that’s now regarded as a milestone in the boundaries of contract law.

Older readers may know how this story ends, but not the journey Leonard and Hoffman took to get there. I remembered neither the journey nor the ending, and I won’t spoil the plot here.

In any case, I found one strand of “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?” -- a focus on Leonard and Hoffman’s now-25-year-old friendship -- a bit labored, especially attempts to equate the fight against Pepsi with their frequent mountain-climbing trips over the years. These segments helped drag out this otherwise entertaining film perhaps an episode too long.

On the other hand, I rather enjoyed the supporting cast, most likely because of their marketing industry connections.

Representing corporate America, they’re

  • Brian Swette, then chief marketing officer of Pepsi, and now president/co-founder of Nestle’s Sweet Earth Natural Foods.
  • Jeff Mordos, then chief operating officer at Pepsi’s ad agency, Omnicom’s BBDO North America, and now a consultant to CPG companies.
  • Michael Patti, then creative director for BBDO, and later chairman and chief executive officer of Young & Rubicam’s New York office.

The three execs give their side of the story in separate interviews. Since the judge in Leonard vs. PepsiCo (who happened to be Kimba Wood, of later “Nannygate’ fame, who lost out on becoming U.S. Attorney General because she had hired an undocumented immigrant as a nanny)  refused to take their depositions over two decades ago, that omission can be said to be rectified here. 

Image above: Still from the commercial that caused all the trouble for Pepsi.

So what finally comes out in the final episode represents a classic case of creatives vs. “the suits.” Suffice it to say that Patti emerges as my hero, such as when he calls the judge’s final opinion “funnier than the commercial.”

Also interviewed is David Nachman, Leonard’s lawyer in the case, who -- long after his role  in the Coke vs. Pepsi “cola wars” -- recently achieved more fame by taking on Purdue and the Sackler family in the opioid wars.

Then there’s Michael Avenatti, he of Stormy Daniels ame, who at the time of filming had already been convicted for attempting to extort $25 million from Nike. He’s interviewed while he’s under house arrest.

On behalf of Leonard, Avenatti -- not yet a lawyer at the time -- dug up dirt on Pepsi (Hoffman calls it attempted blackmail), launched a massive pro-Leonard PR campaign, and then planned an anti-Pepsi ad campaign under the banner, “Pepsi. Deceiving a Generation.”

All in all, “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet” offers an impressive cast of characters, a story with several twists and turns, and a lesson of sorts for marketing and ad agency executives.

Hoffman ends the documentary with lines that could work equally well for viewers of the film: “Thank you, Pepsi for running false and misleading advertising. We never would have been here without you.”

1 comment about "'Pepsi, Where's My Jet?' Offers Lessons For Marketers, Agencies".
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  1. Clark Celmayster from Endeavor, December 19, 2022 at 9:06 a.m.

    This started back in the 60's with subliminal TV advertising, to today's blatent just come out and say it!

    Today you have the whole of Social Media and pre Musk Twitter, who colluded with almost every Main stream media platform from print to digital, radio, politicians, the whole government, the DOJ, Academia, to create a totally fake nararative (still happeneing today) about Trump and Russia and just about any other malicious idea they could think of, to brainwash the now leftist Sheeple. 

    Along the way, you had the greatest fake adverting Pharmaceutical Covid Vaccinations and face masks marketing still going on that killed as many people as did the actual China unleashed, Biological weapon virus. Which has raked in hindreds of billion$ for the Pharmas and gave them full immunity against lawsuit for deadling and debilitating side effect for the vaccines!

    Let's not also forget at least 40 years of subversive socialist indoctrination, in our schools, Universities, entertainment, that is now the Woke movement whose latest ideologic disease is that all conservatives are evil and enemies of America!

    What Pepsi did was kindergarden level compared to the last 6-7 years of hardcore Socialist takeover! This includes every of aspect marketing, both blatent and subversive!

    One upon a time our country had morals and belived in Freedom. How have we become so complacent and compliant? It's not as if we didn't see it coming nor, actually fought against it!

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