PepsiCo Inc. thought it was a pretty good joke to pretend it was giving away a Harrier fighter jet as part of its Pepsi Stuff promotion.
The company stopped laughing after John D.R. Leonard tried to take Pepsi up on it.
The Lynnwood, Wash., man and the Purchase, N.Y.-based company are now locked in a different kind of Pepsi challenge, a dispute over a Pepsi Stuff TV commercial that "offered" a Harrier jet to Pepsi drinkers. When Leonard tried to take advantage of the fictitious offer and Pepsi told him it was just a joke, Leonard told the company to stuff its refusal--and the dispute has now gone to court.
"The [commercial] itself and the Harrier at the end is clearly a spoof, and I think everyone knows that, but I think Mr. Leonard is clearly getting carried away," said Brad Shaw, a Pepsi spokesman.
But Larry Schantz, Leonard's attorney, insists the Harrier offer is no joke to his client. "He thought it was very serious; so did I. We thought it was a big contest and giveaway. . . . The honest point is that the man is entitled to his Harrier jet."
The Pepsi Stuff promotion, begun in March, lets consumers redeem Pepsi Points on beverage containers for caps, T-shirts, jackets and other prizes. But, for comic effect, Pepsi "offered" a slightly bigger prize in a TV ad--the jet, initially available at the bargain price of 7 million points.
Enter Leonard, who saw the ad and tried to take advantage of a provision in the program allowing consumers to purchase points for 10 cents each. Leonard sent the company a $700,000 check, drawn on Schantz's law firm, to "buy" 7 million points and request the jet.
But the company returned the check, telling him it wasn't really offering a Harrier--which goes for many times more than $700,000.
"They responded and said, 'Oh, you don't believe it, do you?' " Schantz said.
So Leonard threatened Pepsi with legal action, claiming the company had made a fraudulent offer and breached a contract, according to court papers. Schantz said he expects to file the suit soon in state court in Florida, where he lives.
PepsiCo Inc. has struck back with its own lawsuit in federal court in New York, asking to have Leonard's claims declared frivolous and to be reimbursed for its attorney's fees.
The dispute doesn't seem to have dampened the company's spirits on Pepsi Stuff, which Shaw calls "by far the most successful promotion we've ever run."