I recently watched a four-part Netflix docuseries called “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?” Aside from the wave of nostalgia that had me reaching for my Tamagotchi, it left me thinking about the necessity of clear and enforceable disclaimers.
The documentary follows the attempt of an American college student named John Leonard, in acquiring a Harrier fighter jet through a 1995 Pepsi promotion.
If you grew up in the 90s as I did, you will recall the same promotion in Canada at the time called the “Drink Pepsi Get Stuff” campaign. This promotion, which came during the peak of the cola-wars between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, was Pepsi’s way of trying to get a leg up on their Coke competitor. To participate, all you had to do was buy Pepsi products and collect the points that came with each product. Points could then be redeemed for “cool” Pepsi swag.
To advertise this new promotion, Pepsi used a flashy commercial showcasing the prizes that consumers could redeem. Now, if you’re a millennial like me, you may even remember this commercial while watching your weekly dose of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. It featured a teenager getting ready for school in the morning. Each time the teen put on Pepsi merchandise in the commercial, such as his leather jacket or sunglasses, the Pepsi point total for the item was displayed on the bottom of the screen. The commercial ended with our teenage hero landing in front of his high school in a Harrier jet with “7,000,000 Pepsi Points” displayed on the screen under the aircraft.
This commercial aired in the United States with no disclaimers or fine print with respect to the multimillion-dollar jet.
John Leonard saw this commercial with its clear lack of a disclaimer and saw an opportunity. He figured out a way in which he could acquire the 7,000,000 Pepsi points he needed to redeem the jet for $700,000 USD – he did this by purchasing Pepsi points for 10 cents each, as permitted by the promotion. He ultimately collected all the necessary points and mailed them in to redeem his jet.
Shocker – Pepsi laughed at his attempt to obtain the jet and sent him a voucher for a case of Pepsi. You would think they could at least have sprung for that “fly” leather jacket! Both parties lawyered up and the matter proceeded to litigation.
The result? NETFLIX SPOILER ALERT.
Mr. Leonard lost in court and never got his jet. The court found that the commercial was “evidently done in jest” and that “no reasonable, objective person would have understood the commercial to be an offer.” Pretty sure my 9-year-old self would have strongly disagreed.
While the U.S. District Court found that a disclaimer wasn’t necessary to show that the jet was clearly a joke, remember all of this could have been avoided with a clear disclaimer in the commercial from the start. The insertion of a disclaimer gets ahead of a possible loophole and may prevent costly and time-consuming litigation, even if the law is on your side.
Fun fact – the same Pepsi commercial aired in Canada however this version included a disclaimer from the very start indicating that the jet wasn’t available as a prize. Perhaps Canadian lawyers are just ahead of the curve?
Robin K. Mann, Associate Lawyer