Have you ever wondered why TV adverts have all that small print at the bottom of the screen? Well, the case of John Leonard and Pepsi is a perfect example of why it’s there.
In 1996, a smart and daring student named John Leonard tried to win a Harrier fighter jet after Pepsi offered one as a prize during a daring ad campaign as part of the so-called ‘cola wars.’
The story has become the thing of legend in the 26 years since and is now the subject of Netflix’s latest docuseries.
Naturally, the documentary has thrown up plenty of questions about John Leonard with fans asking what happened to him, where he is now and whether he ever got the jet.
The story behind Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?
Released by Netflix on November 17, 2022, Pepsi, Where’s My Jet recounts the story of John Leonard and his efforts to win a Harrier fighter jet after the drinks company offered one as a prize in a highly publicized ad campaign.
The now-infamous commercial saw the drinks company offer fans ‘Pepsi Stuff,’ such as sunglasses or leather jackets, which could be won by earning enough ‘Pepsi Points’ through buying cans or bottles of Pepsi.
However, the ad campaign also included a Harrier fighter jet as one of the prizes on offer but Pepsi believed the ‘price’ of seven million Pepsi Points proved the jet’s inclusion was a joke.
What Pepsi did not count on, however, was John Leonard who was ambitious enough to challenge the company to win the jet. He found a loophole in the rules, stating that Pepsi Points could be purchased for real money at 10 cents each, and with the help of close friend Todd Hoffman and several investors, he sent in a check for $700,000 dollars to claim the jet.
Where is John Leonard today?
John Leonard is now 48 years old and living in Talkeetna, Alaska.
He has put the thought of owning a jet well behind him and currently works as a national park ranger and lives with his wife, Dottie, and their two children, a daughter and a son.
Leonard is still close friends with Todd Hoffman and the pair recently took on the challenge of climbing Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica.
Speaking to The Guardian prior to the release of the Netflix documentary, John Leonard spoke of his experiences and what he would say to people who believed he only challenged Pepsi for the attention it would bring.
“Over the years I’ve been sensitive to it, because even close people have said: ‘Well, you’re an opportunist,’” Leonard explained. “Lawsuits like this end up being compared to the McDonald’s hot coffee case, the kind of ambulance-chaser thing. And that hit me wrong. Looking back on it, it was opportunistic. Absolutely. But that’s not always a negative thing. And back then I wholeheartedly thought that we were going to get the jet.”
“What I struggle with today,” he adds, “is how can I have really thought that I was going to get the jet? I’m 48 years old now, and I’m now looking back on it like: ‘what kind of dips**t were you, man?’”
Did he ever get his jet?
No, John Leonard was unsuccessful in winning the Harrier jet.
After Pepsi returned the check for $700,000 and said the offer of the jet was a joke, John attempted to sue the company for alleged claims of breach of contract and fraud as the advert featured no disclaimer to suggest the offer was humorous.
However, the court found in favor of Pepsi and agreed that the apparent offer of a military jet – worth $23 million at the time – was clearly not serious.
In the aftermath of the lawsuit, Pepsi tweaked the commercial to raise the cost of the Harrier jet to 700 million Pepsi Points while also including a disclaimer to clarify they were “Just Kidding.”
Pepsi, Where’s My Jet is available to stream now on Netflix after releasing on November 17, 2022.