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For any company, the 90s was a far simpler time when it came to their marketing. A disadvantage was that there was no social media that would make your business go viral overnight and the advantage was that… there was no social media that would make your business go viral overnight.

What do we mean by this?

Companies published ads and if there were mistakes, the ads could quickly and simply be removed (well, as much as possible where printed advertising is involved!) without bringing too much widespread attention to it.

Any soda lover, or let’s be honest – person, would be aware of the constant rivalry between Coke and Pepsi – the ‘Cola Wars’. Both companies engaged in mutually aggressive and sustained marketing campaigns, trying their best to win a larger share of the market and wrestle fans away from its rival. Of course, we all love some creative competition, but Pepsi may have taken it too far.

Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?is a Netflix documentary that explores the good, the bad and the ugly elements of advertising and the impact it has on consumers. The film takes a critical look at the tactics used by Pepsi to market its products and the ways in which these tactics can be misleading, or even harmful, to consumers.

‘Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?’ – a recap

Pepsi might have believed that they buried the ‘Harrier Jet’ debacle along with John Leonard’s dream of owning a jet in 1999, but recently this lawsuit has come to light again with the release of the popular Netflix documentary.

So, what happened?

In 1995, Pepsi rolled out an exciting campaign known as ‘Pepsi Stuff’. The ultimate objective was simple – encourage people to drink more Pepsi and ultimately, they would increase their sales. Consumers would collect the labels from their Pepsi bottles to collect points that they could trade for paraphernalia. 60 points would get you a branded hat, and a leather jacket would set you back 1450 points. This was a genius campaign idea and certainly benefitted the sales of the soda giant, as the redemption rate of prizes exceeded their original expectations.

Pepsi had predicted a 10% redemption rate, for which they had budgeted $125 Million, but more consumers were claiming prizes than expected, leading Pepsi to cancel the last phase of their campaign. The redemption rate had been running close to 15%, pushing them over their budget.

Little did Pepsi know that 15% was the least of their concerns.

One of the campaign advertisements showing the various paraphernalia that consumers would collect, such as T-shirts, jackets, caps, and mountain bikes, also showed a Harrier Jet, that could be collected for 7 million Pepsi points. According to Pepsi, this was added as humour to their campaign and any reasonable person would think so too. However, their biggest mistake was not adding a disclaimer to the advert, which meant that John Leonard didn’t think this ad was a joke. He genuinely wanted a jet.

What did John Leonard do?

He devised a plan to claim the Harrier Jet. John Leonard, a Washington State community college student decided to take Pepsi at its word. He did his calculations and realised that buying 7 million cans or bottles of Pepsi would be prohibitively expensive. After almost giving up hope, Leonard saw a disclaimer in a catalogue revealing that, rather than collecting labels, consumers could buy Pepsi Points for 10 cents each. This meant he could get a $32 million Harrier jet for just $700,000! That was the bargain of the century.

Of course, Pepsi Co wasn’t just going to hand over a Harrier Jet, or admit to their mistake it seems. They fought the case and endured a 4-year long lawsuit that began in 1999 against Leonard and his legal team. Pepsi refused to live up to its marketing offer, stating that it was only meant as a joke.

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But, shouldn’t the fact that it was a joke have been made clear?

Yes, exactly.

In marketing, everything must be clearly communicated.

The alleged oversight by the marketing agency responsible for the advert (although they refute responsibility), cost Pepsi thousands of dollars in legal fees and worse yet, a damaged reputation. In the eyes of the public, Pepsi lost the trust and loyalty of many supporters who agreed that John should get the jet.

Pepsi’s marketing error forms the basis of this wildly entertaining and thought-provoking Netflix series. Even though John never got his Jet, he gave Pepsi a run for its money as well as taught them a lesson we can all learn from.

But first, what is marketing compliance?

Marketing compliance is the adherence to laws, regulations, and industry standards that govern advertising and marketing practices. It is important because it helps to ensure that consumers are not misled or deceived by advertising and marketing messages. Compliance also helps to create trust and loyalty among consumers. When consumers feel that they can trust a brand, they are more likely to become loyal brand advocates – a report by JCDecaux found that 81% of consumers stated that trust is a deciding factor in their purchase journey.

Some examples of the key laws and regulations around the world include:

  1. Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act) – United States: The FTC Act prohibits deceptive or misleading advertising and marketing practices, and requires companies to have evidence to support any claims they make about their products. This includes rules around disclosures and endorsements in influencer marketing.
  2. Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) – United Kingdom: The CPRs prohibit misleading and aggressive commercial practices and set out rules for advertising and promotions. They also cover areas such as prize draws and competitions, and require clear disclosure of any significant conditions or limitations.
  3. Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA) – Australia: The CCA includes provisions on misleading and deceptive conduct, false representations and unfair practices. It also covers specific areas such as unsolicited consumer agreements and lay-by sales, and sets out requirements for advertising and promotions.
  4. Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (CCAS) – Canada: The CCAS sets out standards for advertising and marketing communications in Canada, including requirements for honesty, accuracy, and clarity. It also covers issues such as testimonials, disclaimers, and contests and promotions.

“Pepsi Stuff” first launched in North America, so we can see right off the bat, that they violated the regulations and codes of practice in the US and Canada. They misled consumers to believe that they could own a Harrier Jet, for a mere 7 Million Pepsi points. Pepsi’s failure to own up to their mistake and their decision to attack John Leonard instead of addressing the issue left a bitter taste in the mouths of the public, which lingered long after the taste of their soda had faded.

Compliance is crucial because it helps to ensure that consumers are not misled or deceived by advertising and marketing messages. This is especially important in an age where there is a wealth of information available that can be difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Marketing also helps create trust and loyalty among consumers. When consumers feel that they can trust a brand, they are more likely to become loyal brand advocates. These advocates can help to spread positive word-of-mouth about a brand and can help to increase sales and revenue.

The Netflix documentary highlights how companies such as Pepsi may inadvertently, or otherwise, use unethical practices to achieve their goals and how these malpractices can backfire.

For example, the documentary touches on a previous case where Pepsi used controversial marketing campaigns in the Philippines that led to a significant backlash from consumers and damaged the reputation of the brand. This reiterates the importance of companies to consider the ethical implications of their advertising and marketing practices and making sure that they are not engaging in any practices that could be harmful to consumers.


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Before you override your marketing team’s ideas – stop and listen to them.

In this docuseries, we get an insider’s view into what happened in the process of creating the Pepsi Stuff ad. There were two instances when the most important aspects of the ad was changed – the casting of the main character and the number of points needed to claim the jet, which originally was 700,000,000 points.

The creative director reasoned that the absurdly high number made the ad funnier. Pepsi disagreed. And wanted the number to be easier to read, ending it with 7,000,000 points instead.

Brands hire ad agencies in order to create ideas that they themselves would never think of. Input from the stakeholders is important, but they need to acknowledge that they’re not always right. The ad agency had a method to their madness by making the Pepsi points number unattainable. If Pepsi hadn’t changed it simply to suit their preference, the whole debacle could have been avoided. In this case, Pepsi should have trusted its partner.

Any communication should be crystal clear and watertight

Marketing messages should never be vague and ambiguous. This is the quickest way to confuse potential customers and cause upset if they’re promised something as a joke that you don’t deliver… like a Harrier Jet.

Clarity helps to build trust.

When marketing messaging is clear, it is easy for consumers to understand what a product or service is, and how it will benefit them. This helps to build trust with consumers, as they are more likely to feel confident in their purchase decision. It also helps avoid misunderstandings about what is being marketed. This prevents confusion or disappointment and legal issues for the company if the messaging is misleading or false.

With so much advertising and marketing content vying for consumers’ attention, a clear and concise message is more likely to stand out and be remembered. This can help to increase brand awareness and drive sales.

Clear messaging helps companies to ensure that they are not making false or misleading claims and that they are providing accurate and truthful information about their products or services.

Although it’s not always possible, consulting a legal expert for marketing campaigns can be a good idea as they can help ensure that your campaigns comply with all relevant laws and regulations. This is especially advisable if you’re trying something new that is causing you to doubt the possible outcomes in any way.

A legal expert can review your marketing materials, such as advertisements, flyers, and website content, and advise you on any legal issues that may arise. They can also help you navigate the complex and ever-changing legal landscape surrounding advertising and marketing, and help you avoid potential legal issues down the road.

Legal experts can also help you to ensure that your campaigns comply with industry standards and best practices. They can advise you on how to make sure that your campaigns are truthful and not misleading, and help you to avoid making any false or exaggerated claims about your products or services – like Pepsi did, when they offered consumers a $32 million military jet for only 7 million Pepsi points.

Consulting a legal expert for marketing campaigns is an important step in ensuring that your campaigns are compliant with the laws and regulations and that they avoid any legal issues. Legal experts can provide valuable guidance and support, helping you to create effective marketing campaigns while minimising the risk of legal disputes.

Use the opportunity to create loyal brand advocates

So, maybe Pepsi made a mistake and John didn’t deserve to get a jet, but the way Pepsi dealt with the situation leaves a lot to be desired.

Pepsi scoffs at Leonard’s claim right from the beginning, sending him coupons for a couple of free cases of Pepsi, and then eventually, they sue him, first.  Even though they’re the ones in the wrong.

This is not how you treat a fan of your brand.

Rather, Pepsi could have used this opportunity to win over the hearts of America.

Instead of patronising Leonard, the brand had the opportunity to be more sincere and authentic in its response. They could have admitted to their mistake, showing that they’re human and creating a scenario in which they can connect with their audience. The brand could have partnered with John, a very smart kid who was obviously dreaming big, representing the ‘Pepsi Generation’ along with millions of  Americans. Making him a collaborator could have brought Pepsi unlimited amounts of positive PR for years to come, instead of sparking anger amongst customers at how John Leonard had been treated.

By taking an authentic and engaging approach, Pepsi could have created a sense of excitement and connection with its customers and helped to build a community of loyal brand advocates. This could have helped to create a more positive and lasting impact on the brand’s reputation.

‘Pepsi, Where’s My Jet’ is a thought-provoking documentary that highlights the importance of marketing compliance and the impact that advertising and marketing practices can have on consumers. It serves as a reminder that companies should strive to create loyal brand advocates by using ethical and transparent advertising and marketing practices. Additionally, companies should also consider the societal implications of their practices and avoid those that might be harmful to consumers.

Brands now, more than ever, have to be sure that their marketing messages are clear, and consistent and comply with best practices. Our team at Benamic are on hand to help you create strategy that is compliant from conception through to execution, and beyond.