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Judge Sides With Pepsi in Jet Suit

August 6, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ John D.R. Leonard never felt more a part of the ``Pepsi Generation″ than when he raised $700,000 to buy what he thought was a fighter jet the soft drink bottler was offering in a television commercial.

``I thought it was a great prize,″ said Leonard, 24.

He tapped wealthy people from around the country he had met while working for a mountain climbing company as investors in a business he would build around the plane. He planned to offer the public fantasy flights in it or rent it out to movie production companies.

After raising $700,000 for what he thought was the stated price on the commercial, the company told him it was meant as a joke. Now, a federal court judge in Manhattan has agreed.

U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood said in a ruling made public Thursday that ``no objective person could reasonably have concluded that the commercial actually offered consumers a Harrier jet.″

The campaign had stickers worth various points denominations attached to cans and bottles of Pepsi. The stickers could be accumulated and redeemed for gifts, such as hats and T-shirts.

A commercial for the campaign showed the prizes one could get with the stickers, and concluded with the Harrier for 7 million points.

The company also allowed customers to purchase points for 10 cents each, so Leonard raised $700,000 among wealthy acquaintances and ordered himself a jet three years ago.

Pepsi wrote back: ``The Harrier jet in the Pepsi commercial is fanciful and is simply included to create a humorous and entertaining ad. We apologize for any misunderstanding.″ The company enclosed free coupons in lieu of the jet.

The issue landed in federal court in Manhattan after Leonard sued Pepsi.

In her opinion, Ms. Wood said each jet normally sells for $23 million so the possibility it could be bought for $700,000 was the first clue it was ``a deal too good to be true.″

David E. Nachman, Leonard’s lawyer, said his client would consider an appeal.

``We’re obviously disappointed,″ he said.

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