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During the 1980s and 1990s Coca Cola and Pepsi were involved in an advertising war to gain market superiority. Coca Cola was the original cola and Pepsi were always playing catch-up. The way they did this was by making amazing television advertisements. The Harrier Jump Jet promotion was one of these promotions that backfired on them. You can do the complete ‘Cola Wars’ lesson by clicking the blue link above.
The lesson below can be seen in full over four episodes on NETFLIX. The series is called “Where’s My Jet” I highly recommend it.
VOCABULARY: playing catchup, backfired, Harrier Jump Jet
When the Pepsi Cola brand launched a points-for-prizes scheme in the 90s, John Leonard spotted a loophole in the rules and fought for what he saw as rightly his: a Harrier jump jet.
What is an (RAF) British Royal Airforce Harrier Jump Jet?
VOCABULARY: points for prizes, loophole, spotted, RAF, fought
The Harrier, informally referred to as the Harrier jump jet invented by the British and is a family of jet-powered attack aircraft capable of vertical/short takeoff and landing operations. Named after a bird of prey, it was originally developed by British manufacturer Hawker Siddeley in the 1960s.
VOCABULARY: jet-powered, aircraft, takeoff, landing, bird of prey
THE HARRIER JUMP JET: Watch the video to see the Harrier Jump Jet. (Watch the first 4 minutes)
- What is a spitfire?
- What does ‘retired’ mean?
- What happened in 1982?
- What does the word ‘infamous’ mean?
- Where are the Falkland Islands ?
- How many Harriers were deployed in the Falklands conflict? What does ‘deployed’ mean?
- How many Argentine aircraft were shot down by the British Harriers and what does ‘shot down’ mean?
- In English what did the Argentines call the Harrier?
- The TV news reporter said in his famous news report, ” I counted them all out and I counted them all back”. What did that mean?
- What other wars did the British use the Harrier in?
In 1996, PepsiCo – then known for creating the young, cool, carbonated drink of a generation – made an incredible mistake.
The company had just launched its Pepsi Points scheme, in which customers could save Pepsi labels and redeem them against Pepsi-branded merchandise. Sixty tokens would get you a hat. Four hundred and you’d get a denim jacket. But in the commercial accompanying the launch, Pepsi went further, joking that anyone who collected 7 million labels would be eligible for a brand new Harrier jump jet. The mistake? Pepsi forgot to add any small print pointing out that it was a joke.
VOCABULARY: launched, points scheme, labels, redeem, branded, merchandise, tokens, denim jacket, commercial, launch, joking, small print
That one oversight now forms the basis for a wildly entertaining Netflix series, entitled Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? It tells the story of John Leonard, a Washington State community college student who decided to take Pepsi at its word. After quickly realising that buying 7 million cans or bottles of Pepsi would be prohibitively expensive, Leonard saw a disclaimer revealing that, rather than collecting labels, consumers could buy Pepsi Points for 10 cents each. A $23 million Harrier jump jet for just $700,000? That was the bargain of the century. Over four episodes, the show recounts one young man’s determination to take on a multinational corporation to get what an advert had promised him.
VOCABULARY: oversight, prohibitively, bargain of the century, episodes, recount, multinational, advert
Who was this guy? John Leonard. This is the advert.
- What does it mean when we say something ‘caught my eye’?
- ‘It sure beats the bus’ What did he mean?
- ‘Aim your sights higher’ What did he mean?
- What are labels?
“John had this kind of Spielbergian quality about him when he was younger where it was just, like, anything is possible,” recounts Andrew Renzi, the show’s director, over a riotous four-way Zoom call with Leonard and Todd Hoffman. “I don’t know if you have ever seen the film Being There,” Renzi adds, referring to the Peter Sellers satire about a gardener who accidentally works his way into the corridors of power, “but I had this thing in my head where John Leonard at 19 years old is Peter Sellers.”
VOCABULARY: Spielbergian, riotous, Peter Sellers, satire, four-way Zoom call
“Yeah. So that’s pretty close to accurate,” Leonard interrupts.
Renzi sighs. “I forgot to mention that John is opinionated,” he says.
Renzi was initially offered Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? as a work of fiction. But after tracking down Leonard, by then in his mid-40s and working as a park ranger in Alaska, he realised that the truth would be more entertaining.
VOCABULARY: sigh, work of fiction, mid-40s
What was the Pepsi competition?
- In the Pepsi catalogue what prizes could you get with pepsi tokens?
“It was a long time ago,” Leonard continues. “And I just kind of wanted to keep it back there, as something funny that happened a long time ago.” That changed when the Netflix series Tiger King became a lockdown hit, and people started looking for more weird historical stories to turn into documentaries; various producers came sniffing around.
VOCABULARY: keep it back there, lockdown-hit, weird, sniffing around, Leonard continues
“There were some real schmucky people that would lay on this really thick, used-car salesman, Hollywood type of thing. But Renzi sent me an email. And of all the different emails I got, it felt really sincere. It didn’t seem like it was the same old thing of, you know, blowing smoke up your ass. But simultaneously, Todd and I had a conversation. He said something along the lines of: ‘This is a cool story. It needs to be told, and it needs to be told by the right person.’ He said: ‘When I die, I’d be happy to have this be on my epitaph.’”
VOCABULARY: schmucky, lay it on thick, used-car salesman, blow smoke up your ass, a cool story, epitaph
Now let’s introduce Hoffman, the secret sauce of the whole crazed scheme. A charismatic millionaire, then in his 40s, Hoffman had befriended Leonard on a mountaineering trip. And when Leonard realised he needed $700,000 to force a fighter jet out of a fizzy drink company, Hoffman was the first person he turned to. To everyone’s surprise, Hoffman was keen.
VOCABULARY: crazed scheme, charismatic, befriended, fizzy drink, keen
“John brought this to me, and told me the story,” he recalls. “We looked at the videotape of the commercial, and I just kept looking at it over and over and over and going: ‘That is absolutely a reckless ad put out there by a major corporation that knows better.’” After that point, the game was afoot. Pepsi’s defence throughout was that the ad was clearly a joke. At one point during the series, a Pepsi spokesperson mentions that, while millions of people watched the advert, only one person actually tried to redeem the jet offer. It is possible nobody else went as far as Leonard in their attempts to claim the prize, but he points out that he first heard of Pepsi Points when a father at the Little League baseball team he coached mentioned he was part of a jet-buying consortium. Leonard was unique in being the only viewer who had access to Hoffman, a like-minded renegade with the funds to back it up.
VOCABULARY: videotape, reckless, afoot, ad, spokesperson, to redeem, claim the prize, jet-buying consortium, like-minded, renegade, funds, back-it-up
THE LAW: USA Business Law explanation.
- How many points did you need for a teeshirt?
- How many points did you need for the ‘shades’ ? What are shades?
Leonard describes Hoffman 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.”
VOCABULARY: count on, a ton of dreamers, to figure, willing, crazy ride
“Making the series, I always had this guiding post of: ‘Everybody needs a John and everybody needs a Todd,’” Renzi explains. And it is this relationship, between two men of different generations who had a wild idea and saw it through, that runs through the series like a golden cord. Even decades later, over Zoom, they are warm and familiar, crashing into each other’s stories and finishing each other’s sentences.
VOCABULARY: a guiding post, wild ideas, like a golden chord, crashing
“I just love being connected with people like John,” beams Hoffman. “He looks all serious and he looks conservative, but he’s insane. He’s certifiably insane. He holds a job. He has a beautiful family. He has a house and pays a mortgage and goes to work every day, but he’s got some real mental things going on. Way outside the box.”
VOCABULARY: to beam, insane, cerifiably insane, mortgage, way outside the box
In conclusion, John lost his courtcase when the court decided that Pepsi only meant the promotion as a joke and the state had a law that limited prizes in competitions to a maximum of $500. The Leonard v Pepsico court case is now cited in American law textbooks regarding the importance and teaching of of contract law in American universities.
VOCABULARY: courtcase, cited, textbooks
LEONARD v PEPSICO
Case number 96 Civ. 5320
There is of course a moral to this story:
If you think something is wrong always fight and never give up your fight. There is right and there is wrong. The law is the law for everyone. And finally, nothing gets better or improves if you don’t fight and stand your ground.
VOCABULARY: stand your ground
Write 150 words discussing whether you think John Leonard was right or not and should have received his jet.
In your writing exercise use one example of the following grammar concepts. Before writing watch each video.
- Present Perfect
- Past Perfect
- Future Perfect