Netflix’s ‘Pepsi, Where’ My Jet?’ Is the Bizarre Story of the College Kid Who Says Pepsi Owes Him a Plane

The docuseries craze is now so rampant—especially on streaming services, which must never stop feeding the insatiable subscriber-base beast—that it feels like it’s only a matter of time before every wild, fantastic, and shocking story receives the multi-part treatment.

Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? is a byproduct of that trend, recounting the outlandish and altogether moronic saga of John Leonard, who spent precious years of his life trying to collect on a non-existent prize. It’s certainly a tale unlike any other, although on the basis of director Andrew Renzi’s four-part Netflix affair (which premieres Nov. 17), it’s also a trivial one, even by today’s low nonfiction standards.

The subject of Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? is Pepsi’s 1996 attempt to win the “Cola Wars” against rival Coca-Cola via a promotion dubbed “Pepsi Points,” which promised customers the opportunity to use points—earned by buying sodas—on a variety of branded goods.

Pepsi Points was the brainchild of celebrated ad agency Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn. Moreover, it was infused with the same humorous teen energy and humor that marked the company’s many other star-studded commercials, which featured the likes of Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Shaquille O’Neal, and Cindy Crawford. The supermodel even briefly appears here to wax nostalgic about the great honor of being asked to join her fellow celebrities on the Pepsi marketing team—and, in particular, to headline the 1992 TV spot that helped turn her into an industry icon.

Pepsi Points was a gimmick designed to persuade kids to switch their cola allegiance. Its commercial featured a hip teen boy accumulating all sorts of swag, culminating with him showing up to school in a Harrier fighter jet. Over that concluding image, on-screen text noted that said military vehicle cost 7 million Pepsi Points—a far-flung sum that clearly marked the idea as a joke.

Still, Seattle college student Leonard took the offer seriously, and as he explains in Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?, it wasn’t long before he was figuring out how to acquire the jet. The math was daunting: Since a 12-pack was worth five Pepsi Points, Leonard would have to purchase 1.4 million 12-packs (i.e. 16 million cans), at a cost of $4.3 million, to rack up the requisite credits. Then, he’d have to figure out where to find 600,000 cubic feet of storage to house his beverages.

Leonard didn’t have that kind of dough, so he turned to his buddy and fellow mountain climber Todd Hoffman, an entrepreneur who was intrigued by his young friend’s proposition. The problem was, even if it was legal to own the jet (and they could subsequently figure out a way to monetize it), there was a chance that the contest would end before they could procure the necessary Pepsi Points. Thus, they gave up on this improbable dream—at least, that is, until Leonard learned that individual Pepsi Points could be purchased for 10 cents, meaning 7 million would cost him “only” $700,000. With Hoffman back on board as an investor, they sent a check to Pepsi to claim their chosen reward.

Leonard and Hoffman recount this with excited glee in Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?, whereas Pepsi ad executives Michael Patti, Jeff Mordos and Brian Swette recall this turn of events with a mixture of astonishment and exasperation. Leonard’s apparent ace in the hole was that Pepsi’s commercial featured no fine print indicating that the Harrier jet offer was a gag, and the company’s ensuing alteration of the spot—first to increase the jet’s Pepsi Points cost, and then to note that they were “just kidding”—only emboldened the duo, who took these maneuvers as admissions of guilt.

A legal battle was born, and it eventually drove Leonard to partner up with Stormy Daniels’ future attorney Michael Avenatti, who put the proverbial pedal to the metal in his efforts to get Leonard what he wanted, even if it meant alienating Hoffman in the process.

Hoffman and Avenatti’s less-than-kind words for each other are the amusing highlights of Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?, with the former coming out on top by suggesting that Avenatti’s current criminal predicament—he’s interviewed under house arrest due to federal convictions for tax evasion, extortion, fraud, and embezzlement—is the result of the same type of blackmail-ish scheme he pushed Leonard to perpetrate against Pepsi.

Unfortunately, the series is undone by both Leonard’s inability to justify his quest as reasonable, and the director’s failure to cast that mission as emblematic of some larger, worthwhile cause. Leonard talks about being “owed” the jet, and Hoffman, Avenatti, and others contend that Pepsi was willfully deceiving the public by making misleading promises. Yet proof that this was a deliberate ruse never materializes.

There’s much joyous talk about poking Pepsi in the eye with this demand, which ultimately came before a judge. Nonetheless, Leonard and Hoffman’s anti-corporate sentiment—and specific desire to stick it to Pepsi—rings hollow. Leonard, it turns out, didn’t want to reveal anything about capitalist commerce or consumer rights with his crusade; he just coveted that jet and discovered an apparent loophole that might let him get it.

Consequently, Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? comes off as the tale of a juvenile dream and endeavor that, thanks to its brazen lunacy, became a brief national news item. Pepsi’s ad men don’t deny that their own carelessness begat this mess in the first place. However, even if one isn’t prone to siding with big business, it’s easy to agree with their general sentiment that Leonard’s campaign was a dumb and pointless waste of everyone’s time, money, and energy.

Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? proves similarly inane, this despite the late “revelation” that Pepsi had mucked up a prior promotion in the Philippines that led to riots and deaths (thereby supposedly implying a pattern of duplicity). Director Renzi gussies up his action with archival-material montages, dramatic recreations, animation, Coke-Pepsi taste tests, and other flashy devices. He also occasionally cuts away to a present-day Antarctica mountain climb by Leonard and Hoffman that illustrates the duo’s continuing friendship and spirit of adventurousness.

What he doesn’t do, however, is convincingly convey why Leonard’s pursuit was legally or ethically valid, much less interesting enough to warrant a nearly three-hour investigation. A few minor instances of comical outrageousness notwithstanding, the series is just empty calories.

Source link

Leave a Comment