Today’s Illustration: A Manufactured Misunderstanding

  Who: John Leonard,

  • a resident of Seattle, Washington
  • 21 years old
  • business student at Shoreline Community College
  • John, along with other investors, raised the needed money/points to win the Harrier Jet

When: A 1996 Pepsi advertising campaign

What: Campaign called — “Pepsi Stuff” — It was, per The New York Times, the “largest promotional campaign in the company’s history” — one that Pepsi hoped would steal market share from Coca-Cola at the tail end of the decades-long Cola Wars.” [1]

“It opens with a cocky teenager donning a Pepsi shirt. The text, “T-SHIRT 75 PEPSI POINTS,” appears to the beat of a military drum line.

Said teen then swaggers through a door in a leather jacket (“LEATHER JACKET 1,450 PEPSI POINTS”) and flips on a pair of blue-tinted sunglasses (“SHADES 175 PEPSI POINTS”).

The narrator chimes in — “The more Pepsi you drink, the more great stuff you’re gonna get!” — and the scene shifts to the teen landing a computer-generated Harrier fighter jet in front of his high school, blowing the clothes off a bewildered principal in the parking lot.

“HARRIER FIGHTER … 7,000,000 PEPSI POINTS” flashes across the screen as the music crescendos into a fade-out.” [1]

Other Facts: 

  • Approximate value of a HARRIER FIGHTER — $33 million.
  • 7 million points needed / 16.8 million/12 packs of Pepsi at 5 points a pack
  • Cost of Pepsi packs — approximately $4 million
  • There was another way to accumulate the needed 7 million points — purchasing them.
  • Must have at a minimum, 15 real Pepsi Pack points.
  • You can purchase the remaining points at 10 cents per point.
  • After the first 15 points, the Harrier Jet would require 7 million points at 10 cents each.
  • All Leonard had to do to get 7m points . . . . $700k. Over several months, the enterprising college student put together a business plan, researched case law on promotional advertisements, and convinced several investors — wealthy clients he’d met while working as a climbing guide — to front the cash. On March 28, 1996, he mailed 15 Pepsi Points, along with a check for $700,008.50 (including shipping), to Pepsi and politely asked for his jet.” [1]
  • The response from Pepsi . . .

  • John’s response . . . .

  • John ultimately lost his legal battle. [1]

  • “After Leonard’s lawsuit was filed, the Harrier jet commercial continued to air, but with some minor tweaks to drive home the joke. The points for the jet were increased from 7m to 700m, and 2 words were tacked onto the closing text: “just kidding.” [1]

. . . . . 

Key Biblical Thoughts:

  • snared by your words
  • money
  • taking advantage of a situation
  • agreements
  • promises / commitments
  • honoring your commitments / your word
  • misunderstandings
  • confusion
  • following the rules
  • the letter of the law
  • every idle word
  • honesty
  • without guile
  • insincerity / game playing

. . . . 

Sermonic Example:

(Include whatever information from above that you find useful)

“The Harrier Jet . . . . [it was] simply included to create to create a humorous and entertaining ad . . . . We apologize for any misunderstanding or confusion.” — those were the words of the Pepsi corporation in response to Mr. Leonard’s letter asking for his Harrier Jet to be delivered. — “misunderstanding” . . .  “confusion.”

I think we would all agree that John Leonard knew that there was no such Harrier Jet prize offer.  That there wasn’t any “misunderstanding” or “confusion,” but Leonard was attempting to take advantage of the situation.  And the courts realized that as well and obviously ruled against John Leonard and his investors.  He knew that such an offer by Pepsi was not being made. It was “a manufactured misunderstanding.”  It was “a created confusion.”  There are “misunderstandings,” and there are “misunderstandings.”

However, there are times when we have not been misunderstood.  There is no confusion.  The issue has not been manufactured.  We have given our word and what we have promised was clear and intended.  We have been “snared” by the words of our mouth — the Scriptures indicate that we are to humble ourselves, and don’t go to sleep, but seek quickly to make it right. . . . .

Other Information & Links:

1. PDF — Link to the full article

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