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Pepsi: They thought nobody may drink sufficient to win a army jet. Then John Leonard got here alongside

For twenty-three years, John Leonard was often called the child who sued Pepsi over a army jet. In 1995, Pepsi – engaged in a aggressive battle towards Coke so fierce it turned often called the cola wars – began airing a tv advert introducing the idea of Pepsi factors.

The factors could possibly be collected from Pepsi packaging, and traded in towards varied objects. A T-shirt value 75 Pepsi factors. A leather-based jacket prices 1,450 Pepsi factors. The idea was straight ahead and overtly materialistic, summarized as such by the advert’s narration: “Now, the extra Pepsi you drink, the extra nice stuff you are going to get.”

Had the advert stopped there, it will probably not have gone down within the historical past books. However a couple of further seconds of tv prompted a headline-making authorized battle, a courtroom case nonetheless taught in regulation colleges across the US at the moment and, now, a brand new Netflix documentary casting a brand new eye on the saga.

In the direction of the tip of the clip, a fight jet is seen touchdown in entrance of a highschool. The digital camera pans to the industrial’s younger, male protagonist, who, clad in a Pepsi-T-shirt and clutching a can of the soda, proclaims of the plane: “Certain beats the bus!” Wording seems on display screen, studying: “Harrier fighter” and “7,000,000 Pepsi factors.”

This final shot was, in keeping with the authorized world and a choose’s eventual ruling, clearly a joke on Pepsi’s half. To John Leonard, a 20-year-old pupil from Seattle who dreamed of journey, there was extra to the advert than comedy. In his eyes of him, the advert – devoid of any tremendous print – was a chance.

Todd Hoffman (left) and John Leonard (proper) in an archive picture

(Courtesy of Netflix)

Leonard assembled the requisite variety of Pepsi factors and sought to commerce them in for a Harrier jet, a British army plane primarily used within the US by the Marine Corps. (Extra, far more on this under.) Pepsi refused. The 2 ended up going through off in courtroom.

Point out the Pepsi lawsuit case to only about anybody, and some questions often floor: How may John Leonard not suppose this was a joke? Was this a cynical money seize? What would he have performed with a fighter jet? Can a civilian even legally purchase a army airplane?

A brand new Netflix documentary, Pepsi, The place’s My Jet? solutions all these questions and extra. Via interviews with quite a lot of protagonists, together with Leonard himself, it paints a way more nuanced, and infrequently extra harmless, image of the case. It additionally provides a debunking of kinds, bringing to the forefront a collection of components that individuals who know concerning the lawsuit usually aren’t conscious of – resembling the truth that within the authorized battle between Leonard and Pepsi, Pepsi technically struck first.

“What’s so misunderstood is folks attempt to say, ‘This child took benefit of the authorized system.’ And it is like, no. Pepsi sued me,” Leonard says in a video name with The Impartiala few days earlier than the documentary’s launch.

Previous to Pepsi’s submitting, Leonard’s aspect had threatened authorized motion. (“If we don’t obtain switch directions inside [10] enterprise days of the date of this letter you’ll depart us no alternative however to file an acceptable motion towards Pepsi,” states a letter quoted within the choose’s ruling.) Pepsi then filed a lawsuit “in search of a declaratory judgment stating that it had no obligation to furnish plaintiff with a Harrier Jet,” per Choose Kimba Wooden’s closing opinion and order. That case was filed in July 1996. Leonard introduced his personal lawsuit the next month. In different phrases, earlier than Leonard v PepsiCo (because the case is most frequently remembered), there was PepsiCo v Leonard.

“There was this type of sub-story that someway I used to be making an attempt to make use of the media,” Leonard provides throughout our name. “And once more, that is completely false.” The one cause the media discovered about him, he says, was Pepsi’s personal courtroom submitting. “I hadn’t thought that far,” Leonard tells me. “We would by no means talked about any media curiosity or something.”

So, how did this all start for Leonard? Within the mid-nineties, as he says in Pepsi, The place’s My Jet, he developed a ardour for mountaineering and was “making an attempt to determine a technique to climb the best mountains on the planet”. He wished to “see completely different locations”, “expertise completely different cultures”. To him, “cash was freedom” and he held the promise of “extra adventures, extra enjoyable.”

When Leonard first noticed the Pepsi Factors advert on TV, he noticed it as his manner out – “a reliable alternative to vary [his] world,” he says within the documentary. Whereas popular culture has remembered Leonard as considerably of an outlier within the Pepsi Factors narrative – the one man to take the advert significantly – that is not how he noticed it on the time.

“I used to be involved that lots of people have been making an attempt to do that,” he says throughout our dialog.

John Leonard (left) and Todd Hoffman (proper) in an archive picture

(Courtesy of Netflix)

John Leonard (left) and Todd Hoffman (proper) in ‘Pepsi, The place’s My Jet?’

(Courtesy of Netflix)

On a climbing journey, Leonard met Todd Hoffman, a businessman who had acquired a fortune throughout a number of industries. The 2 struck up a friendship. Leonard finally pitched the Pepsi Factors concept to Hoffman. After a trial-and-error part detailed within the documentary, the 2 realized they may purchase seven million Pepsi factors for about $700,000. They despatched a verify. Pepsi balked. And we’re again to the authorized battle.

Pepsi, The place’s My Jet? makes it clear that Leonard did not rush into this entire factor with out giving it a second thought. He says within the collection that he referred to as the Pentagon to verify {that a} civilian may legally purchase a Harrier Jet, and was advised sure, so long as the plane was stripped of any armaments. He considered what he would do with the jet to be able to flip it right into a profitable alternative, dreaming up a plan to take it to air exhibits, or hire it out for movies and advertisements. All through the documentary, Leonard and Hoffman are portrayed as a dynamic duo engaged in a barely absurd quest, clearing one hurdle after the opposite so long as they may. The place many have seen cynicism, the documentary – and Leonard’s personal testimony – inject the story with a sure naivete, and a way of surprise.

This, to director Andrew Renzi (whose earlier credit embody the 2021 documentary The Curse of Von Dutch: A Model to Die Foron which he was an govt producer), was key to the story.

“The largest factor that I used to be seeking to – not essentially debunk, however for instance, was that I actually developed an opinion of John the place I believed him, and I believed in him,” Renzi tells The Impartial on one other video name, additionally a few days previous to the present’s launch. “That is only a younger man who actually wished to attempt to attain for the celebs. He wished an journey and it was actually an uncynical, type of barely naive pathway to what he perceived as success. He wasn’t an ambulance chaser. I believed him, and I believed in that spirit, and I liked that spirit.”

Throughout our conversations, Renzi and Leonard each reference the McDonald’s scorching espresso case, one other misremembered web page of American authorized historical past. It is usually, albeit incorrectly, painted because the story of a girl who sued McDonald’s for an absurd amount of cash (folks often say $1 million) as a result of she burnt herself on a scorching espresso from the quick meals chain. In actuality (as described within the You are Mistaken About podcast episode concerning the case), she suffered third-degree burns, required intensive medical therapy together with hospitalization, and was making an attempt to recoup her medical bills. After a trial, a choose decreased her awarded damages to $640,000, and each events ended up settling for an undisclosed quantity.

Pepsi, The place’s My Jet? contains moments that serve to equally paint a extra complicated image of the Pepsi Factors authorized saga. With out revealing an excessive amount of right here, suppose: one other controversial advertising marketing campaign outdoors of the US, a shock cameo in Leonard and Hoffman’s advisory staff, and revelations concerning the genesis of the advert itself.

Pepsi, The place’s My Jet? trailer

John Leonard in ‘Pepsi, The place’s My Jet?’

(Courtesy of Netflix)

The documentary additionally serves as a fable of American capitalism: Leonard and Hoffman, of their eventual battle towards Pepsi, depend on a model of daring entrepreneurialism that’s usually rewarded within the US, or no less than related to success. Leonard emerges as a zany David to Pepsi’s Goliath.

Now, Leonard, who’s simply shy of 48 after we converse, lives a “very nice, pleasing life.” He works as a authorities worker. He and his spouse de él have been collectively for 20 years. They’ve two youngsters. He has been concerned within the documentary for the previous two years, which has been “a bit little bit of surprising enjoyable.”

Collaborating within the collection, he says, has helped him turn into “much less bashful” concerning the concept of ​​opportunism. “I used to be being opportunistic, and that is not a adverse factor,” he says on our name. “… Being opportunistic whereas being intellectually sincere and laying your playing cards on the desk – there’s completely nothing unsuitable with that. This undertaking has introduced me to phrases with the concept that there should not be any disgrace in what I did after I was 19 or 20. Disgrace might be too sturdy a phrase, however possibly a bit embarrassment.”

To Renzi, the undertaking turned a “friendship story” as soon as he managed to get in contact with each Leonard and Hoffman. After I ask him which aspect of the authorized battle he personally landed on – Leonard’s or Pepsi’s, he tells me he “by no means actually cared” about that facet of the story.

“Clearly, I respect[judgeWood’SheclearlyknowshowtodoherjobdeellaandI’mnotgoingtosithereassortofanarmchairexpert”hesays“ButwhatIcansayisthatyou’renevergoingtoseeacommercialthatdoesthisagainItjustwillnothappenSoregardlessofwhetherhegetsthisjettherewasachangethatwasmadeAndyouappreciatethejourneymuchmorethanyouactuallyappreciatetheoutcome”[judgeWood’SheclearlyknowshowtodoherjobandI’mnotgoingtosithereassortofanarmchairexpert”hesays“ButwhatIcansayisthatyou’reneveragaingoingtoseeacommercialthatdoesthisItjustwillnothappenSoregardlessofwhetherhegetsthisjettherewasachangethatwasmadeAndyouappreciatethejourneymuchmorethanyouactuallyappreciatetheoutcome”

Pepsi, The place’s My Jet? is streaming now on Netflix within the US and within the UK.

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