I remember back in the mid-1990s when I heard that some college kid tried to claim a harrier jet from Pepsi because of a contest they were running. In the commercial, they offered the jet for 7 million points. Some kid took them up on it!
Remember, this was at the peak of what the industry called “The Cola Wars” between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. I didn’t remember the details until I watched the Netflix documentary series, “Pepsi, Where is my Harrier Jet?” It also produced the case Leonard v. Pepsico, Inc. which is taught in law schools today.
On The Small Business Radio Show this week, I interviewed John Leonard who is that college student who had the audacity to collect 7 million and asked Pepsi for that jet valued at $32 million. It shows an example of every kid’s dream to get a start in business in a big way and figure something out that others had not (he wanted to use the jets to give rides).
We discussed the excitement he felt when he first watched the commercial for Pepsi products and the associated points offering a harrier jet. John’s first plan he formulated with his investor friend, Todd Hoffman was that the points would cost over $4 million to buy the product, store it and detach the labels. But he then realized he could buy the points for 10 cents each for a total of $700,000 to get the $32 million jet!
John goes through what happened from the time that he sent Pepsi a check for $700,000 until they sued him and the court battle that followed (and why he turned down an offer from Pepsi to settle). Pepsi later changed the commercial so the jet could be redeemed for 700 million points instead of 7 million points.
The most bizarre part of the story is that Michael Avenatti (a former attorney and convicted felon, best known for his legal representation of adult film actress Stormy Daniels) was involved when he was in his 20s and not yet a lawyer. Avenatti had suggested going after Pepsi publicly in print newspaper ads.
Another strange connection, in this case, was that the presiding judge was Kimba Woods who handled such high-profile cases as Michael Milken and Michael Cohen. John describes what it was like when Judge Woods issued her summary judgement.
John talks about what the case taught him about his friendship with Todd Hoffman and what he hopes law students learn.
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