PepsiCo Inc. thought it was a pretty good joke to pretend to give 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 bottled up 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 _ a Harrier 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. So Leonard sent the company a $700,000 check, drawn on Schantz's law firm, to "buy" 7-million points and request the jet.
"We checked _ you can sell a Harrier jet," Schantz said, referring to the military fighter. "We thought they were giving it away."
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 PepsiCo with legal action, claiming the company had made a fraudulent offer and breached a contract, according to court papers.
PepsiCo 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 attorneys fees.
At least the company won't have to face any other such requests. Leonard apparently saw the ad during a regional test run, Shaw said; when it debuted nationally, the point figure for the Harrier was boosted to an out-of-reach 700-million. Shaw said the change was made before Leonard's request. "Bumping it up to 700-million just made it even funnier," he said.
The dispute doesn't seem to have damped the company's spirits on Pepsi Stuff, which Shaw calls "by far the most successful promotion we've ever run."
And at least some people are going along with the joke _ like Delta Internet Services, a California company with a tongue-in- cheek World Wide Web site that encourages Web surfers to send in Pepsi containers so Delta can collect the 700-million points needed for the jet. According to the Web site, the company still needs 699,991,150 points.
"There are groups out there who are clearly taking it the way it was intended," Shaw said.