3 Pepsi Jokingly Offers a Fighter Jet in a Contest, Gets Sued
If you watched television in the 1990s, you may remember this Pepsi commercial and the contest that went with it. It's pretty standard "win shitty prizes for buying our product" fare -- the ad was for the "Pepsi Stuff" reward program and showcased various items viewers could redeem their points for, including T-shirts, sunglasses, and, apparently, the cool, rebellious spirit of a young Marlon Brando.
"Shades" are an exclusive trademark of PepsiCo.
Then, in the name of hilarity, the ad threw in a joke prize at the end. The commercial says that for the seemingly impossible sum of 7 million Pepsi Points (all the other items cost between 75 and 1,450 points, to compare), customers could score themselves a brand new $33 million Harrier II fighter jet, then, apparently, use said jet to somehow still not get to school on time.
"Between filing flight plans and following air traffic control, it's not the time saver you'd think."
One Small Problem
Although they did omit the Harrier from the official catalog of prizes, at no point did Pepsi ever come right out and say, "Oh yeah, and that part about us somehow being authorized to issue fully functional, state-of-the-art military aircraft to anyone who drinks roughly 17,000 years' worth of soda? Totally not true!"
John Leonard, a 21-year-old business student from Seattle, saw that ad and immediately jumped off his couch, snapped his fingers, and declared, "Oh hell no! They're not getting away with this shit!"
Five months later, some unsuspecting Pepsi employee opened a package from Leonard and found inside 15 Pepsi Points, a $700,000 check (additional points could be purchased outright for 10 cents each), and an order form with the words "1 Harrier Jet" handwritten at the bottom of the "Item" column. While we're not sure whether the aforementioned employee then fainted, shat their pants, or just laughed hysterically at the absurd request for hours on end, one thing we know they definitely didn't do was send back a $33 million airplane they never had in the first place and that the U.S. government would never allow them, or anyone else, to ever possess in flyable condition anyway.
"We have an exclusive deal with Coke."
Instead of the plane, Pepsi mailed back some free coupons and an overly polite explanation that despite his impressive efforts (Leonard was able to convince five greedy investors to put up the cash and did already have a team of lawyers lined up for the legal battle that was inevitably about to ensue), he wasn't getting no stinkin' jet. But, instead of simply taking that news in stride and moving on to some other despicable get-rich scheme, Leonard responded with an ultimatum: Either send me my jet or I'll see you in court.
And that's how Pepsi's stupid throwaway joke at the end of an advertisement wound up keeping them tied up in court for three years. It wasn't until 1999 that a federal court finally made official a settlement in which Leonard agreed to withdraw his claim. Pepsi did not, at the end of all of that, have to buy the guy a jet, but did have to eat about $90,000 in legal fees defending the case. And this, kids, is why every commercial has to have a stupid disclaimer at the bottom, no matter how ridiculous the thing you're seeing onscreen.
Always read the fine print. That's where they get you.
2 Writer Creates Fake L.L. Bean Catalog, Hundreds Try Ordering His Made-Up Crap
In 1982, Avon Books published a spoof L.L. Bean catalog created by humor writer Alfred Gingold entitled "Items from Our Catalog." It was filled with ridiculous items for "sale," such as edible moccasins and nose warmers. Granted, half of that stuff probably was actually for sale via SkyMall, but clearly the whole thing was intended to be a joke.
We'd like to draw your attention to the dog bra.
One Small Problem
Even though most people caught on that it was a joke, neither Gingold nor any of the folks at Avon thought to clarify that none of the items featured in the catalog even existed, let alone were actually for sale, nor did they think to include a small disclaimer anywhere in the thing saying something to the effect of "Please don't mail us a check or call the phone number on the back of this catalog and try to order any of this shit."
First of all, keep in mind that a shitload of people bought this fake catalog. It sold over 8 million copies at $4.95 each and even spawned a sequel the following year.
Don't even pretend you wouldn't buy that mouse-sized shoeboat.
And yes, Avon was slammed with "several hundred" calls from people trying to order their ridiculous contraptions; so many, in fact, that until the madness died down, they had to bring on additional staff to answer the phones and crush the dreams of some "very upset" potential customers. Others took a more direct approach by mailing checks straight to the office with attachments indicating how many of each item they wanted, in what color, and in what size.
Even stranger is the fact that Avon didn't even include their real phone number in the catalog, meaning that those several hundred calls were generated by people who looked up the number, no easy feat by 1982 standards. People were that desperate to give Avon their money in exchange for this fictional bullshit. The reception was so great at one point that Avon even considered actually producing the items, but chose not to because they didn't think they could keep up with the demand. The demand, that is, for products like battery-operated eyeglass wipers. And now you know how Hammacher Schlemmer can continue to exist.