A documentary flight of fancy

Jim Lundstrom

Back in 1996, the No. 2 cola company, Pepsi, launched a promotional campaign aimed at kids and called Pepsi Stuff. Collect points every time you buy a Pepsi and trade those points in for Pepsi branded gear – t-shirts, caps, leather jackets, bicycles, and, a TV ad claimed, for 7 million Pepsi points you could collect a $23 million Harrier jet.

If you are looking for a fun, family-friendly binge for the long Thanksgiving weekend, Pepsi, Where’s My Jet has it all – a David and Goliath story, ‘90s nostalgia, courtroom drama, corporate intrigue and nonsense and great humor.
However, ultimately, this is a documentary about an unlikely friendship that developed when 20-year-old John Leonard decided he was going to collect enough Pepsi points to earn the Harrier jet.
It’s a hilarious story. Pepsi hires a marketing firm to ramp up its market share of cola sales by appealing to the “Pepsi generation” through ads featuring Michael Jackson, Madonna, Shaq and Cindy Crawford, and then by collecting Pepsi gear through Pepsi points.
We meet the team that came up with the idea to feature a Harrier jet for 700 million Pepsi points.
That’s right. The team that came up with the idea used the insurmountable number of 700 million Pepsi points, but when they showed the ad to Pepsi executives, they thought 700 million was too wordy.
The ad team changed it to 70 million Pepsi points, but, again, the executives thought it was too wordy. So the final cut was made to 7 million Pepsi points. Everyone thought that would be cool because, of course, everyone knew Pepsi was joking about being able to win a military jet.
However, there was no disclaimer to say Pepsi was joking about the Harrier offer. John Leonard did not think it was a joke.
Leonard was studying business in college while working odd jobs, one of which was as a climbing guide, which is how he met entrepreneur/adventurer Todd Hoffman, who is 20 years older than Leonard.
Leonard had originally figured he would have to go through 190 Pepsi cans a day for 100 years in order to attain the required 7 million Pepsi points.
Successful businessman Hoffman told Leonard he should come up with a proper business plan to acquire the points.
Leonard complies and comes up with an intricate plan where he has to come up with $4.3 million to purchase 1.4 million 12 packs of Pepsi, along with 600,000 square feet of space to store the Pepsi, along with a staff just to cut out Pepsi labels.
But then Leonard found a loophole in the Pepsi catalog, where he learned he could buy points for 10 cents each. So he got Hoffman to write a check for $700,000 and sat back, waiting for his Harrier to arrive.
Pepsi responded with a letter saying the Harrier offer was a joke and instead offered Leonard two cases of Pepsi.
The company eventually offered Leonard $1 million to forget about the whole thing, but, against advice that he take Pepsi’s check, he opted to pursue the $43 million Harrier jet.
You’d think Pepsi would have been smart enough to turn the whole thing around by giving the kid a ride in a Harrier jet and using him in a Pepsi generation commercial, but, instead, they went to trial.
I won’t divulge any more, but there is an interesting twist when Michael Avenetti gets involved in the case and uncovers another major Pepsi ad faux pas in the Philippines.
No matter the outcome of the court case, this is ultimately a joyous documentary because of the great friendship that developed between Leonard and Hoffman, despite forces that could easily have torn them apart.