Something Really Old II: Pepsi Points and the Jet

From my AOL days (1996 – 1998).



How much Pepsi would it take to get a Harrier Jet?


The question has relevance because someone, specifically John Leonard of Lynwood, Washington, is suing PepsiCo, the makers of Pepsi. PepsiCo won’t give him the Harrier Jet that he says they said they would give him if he collected 7 million “Pepsi Points.” Pepsi Points are credits that PepsiCo gives you for consuming their brown beverage — drink enough Pepsi, and you can get various trinkets from a catalogue they provide. They’re like Green Stamps, only carbonated.


One of the ads for Pepsi Points featured a 13-year-old kid who racked up 7 million Pepsi Points and redeemed them for a vertically-launching Harrier Jet. The kid was using the Harrier Jet to commute to school, which admittedly would have had some advantages (no traffic except for the occasional, very surprised helicopter; also, coming to school equipped with Sidewinder missiles tends cut down on the amount of homework teachers are willing to assign you).


Most folks who saw this commercial showed a rather un-American lack of initiative in pursuing the 7 million Pepsi Points, but Leonard, full of the moxie that made this country great, saw a golden opportunity. After all, Harrier Jets generally go for $70 million. Oh, sure, occasionally you can get a million or two chopped off the asking price, but you usually have to be an ally of the US, and have fought a war or two on the same side as us. The average Joe, on the other hand, presuming he could even get his hands on a Harrier, would have to pay the full dealer markup — which of course doesn’t include tax, title and delivery, or things like air conditioning or a cassette stereo.


But PepsiCo, who had apparently somehow managed to acquire a Harrier Jet (presumably the Cola Wars have taken on a new and more violent aspect), were getting rid of it for a mere 7 million Pepsi Points, which aside from drinking Pepsi can be bought at 10 cents a point. That’s just $700,000, still a lot of money — it takes Bill Gates almost 12 hours to make that much off of interest! — but a fair markdown from the Harrier’s listed sticker price. Leonard got some investors, got the $700,000, and approached Pepsi for the jet. Though we can’t know exactly what the exchange was between Leonard and PepsiCo, we can assume it went something like this:


Leonard: I’m here for my jet.


PepsiCo Representative: You’re nuts.


Leonard threatened to sue to get the jet. PepsiCo responded by filing for a Declaratory Judgement — basically asking a judge to tell Leonard to take his Pepsi Points and buy a clue instead. Leonard followed through with his suit, and that’s where it stands at the moment: Leonard on one side, PepsiCo on the other, and a Harrier Jet in between.


Ignoring the reality-based issues of this suit — such as the fact that PepsiCo never had a Harrier Jet, that its commercial was clearly meant for humorous effect, and that even if Leonard some how miraculously won the suit, the Pentagon would never give him a Harrier anyway — let’s deal with the theoretical aspects. I say that PepsiCo should give Leonard the Harrier Jet — if Leonard earns his Pepsi Points the way they were meant to be earned: by drinking his way through them. Just him, without help from anyone else.


Which brings us back to our original question: how much Pepsi would it take to get a Harrier Jet? According to an Associated Press report, it’d take 16,800,000 12-ounce cans — except in August, when points are doubled. So he’d only have to drink 8,400,000 cans, presuming he could drink them all in August.


It takes about 12 seconds to drain a can of Pepsi; the limiting factor is the mouth of the can. You could speed up the process of getting the Pepsi out of the can with something like rubber tubing (a “Pepsi Bong”), but then, there’s the set-up time getting the rubber tubing in the can and into Leonard’s gullet simultaneously. 12 seconds per can is as good as it’s going to get. That’s five cans a minute, 300 cans an hour, 7200 cans a day.


Assuming that Leonard, cathetered and with a nutrient IV drip to fulfill his basic life functions, did nothing else besides drink Pepsi 24 hours a day, it would take him one thousand, one hundred sixty six days and 16 hours to drink all 8.4 million cans. By which time, obviously, August would be over. He’d have to drink another 8.4 million cans to make up the difference. All told, Leonard would have to spend about six years and three months of his life doing nothing but drinking Pepsi to get enough Pepsi Points for the Harrier Jet.


That’s fair. If he can do that, I say he’s earned the jet. He’ll need a couple of other things as well (for example, a new digestive tract), but if you’ve drunk that much Pepsi, you can probably tuck a couple more cans of the stuff away to cover the medical expenses. I think it’s a solution that both PepsiCo and Leonard can agree on. I called PepsiCo, to see if they might be amenable to idea: Pepsi spokesman Brad Shaw declared, “I can hardly think of a better way to spend six years than drinking Pepsi non-stop.” So, John Leonard, get cracking!


Now, there’s another Pepsi Points ad in which these guys are drinking Pepsi, and every woman around them has turned into Cindy Crawford. I recently quaffed a Pepsi, and all the women near me persisted in being themselves. I think I may have a case.


48 Comments on “Something Really Old II: Pepsi Points and the Jet”

  1. PS A quick Google gets me the Wikipedia page on the court case:,_Inc.

    My favorite part: “Among other claims made, Leonard claimed that a federal judge was incapable of deciding on the matter, and that instead the decision had to be made by a jury consisting of members of the “Pepsi Generation” to whom the advertisement would allegedly constitute an offer.”

  2. It’s like being visited by the ghost of Scalzi past.

    After all, Harrier Jets generally go for $70 million.

    Two words: maintenance costs.

    You know how Hawker Aircraft came up with the Harrier, right? Someone at NATO said, we really like our helicopters, but we wish there was a way to make them even more aerodynamically unstable and expensive to overhaul. Whaddyagot? And some guy over in the corner with a pocket protector proceeded to sketch a tiltrotor…That’ll never fly, you moron!…to which he replied…fine, I’m leaving to work for Boeing. And another engineer stepped up and said, you want dangerous, look at this baby

    Leonard got some investors, got the $700,000, and approached Pepsi for the jet.

    Clearly I spent the early part of my career approaching the wrong venture capital firms.

    Now, there’s another Pepsi Points ad in which these guys are drinking Pepsi, and every woman around them has turned into Cindy Crawford.

    I thought is was coke that was laced with drugs. Regardless, that’s too high a price to pay for that particular trip. Pepsi is revolting.

  3. I remember that one. I wonder how he expected to afford to maintain, insure and run it? Even by the military’s standards, the Harrier was expensive to run…I can’t find specific numbers online, though.

  4. I didn’t remember this, so I googled to see how the suit turned out. I love this quote from the judge:
    “The notion of traveling to school in a Harrier Jet is an exaggerated adolescent fantasy…No school would provide landing space for a student’s fighter jet, or condone the disruption the jet’s use would cause.”
    You know you can’t argue with that logic. I mean imagine trying to provide a parking space for every random military aircraft an 8 year old might bring to school.

  5. You might have a case, but since you would not suffer any damages from trading down, I think it would be one of those $1 judgements.

  6. You know what I’d love to see in these flashbacks: the “of course Tinky Winky is gay. THEY’RE ALL GAY” piece. Because that was the piece that brought me to your blog. (My friend Helene e-mailed me a link.)

  7. ::I’ve seen True Lies a buncha times. Harriers are way capable, upkeep be damned.::

    It’s part of James Cameron’s filmmaking genius that you think that, Other Bill.

  8. This is a great example, for a class on contract law, about “genuineness of offer,” and why a court took one long at it and laughed the plaintiff right out of the courtroom.

  9. So from this we can infer that Pepsi commercials — and by extension, almost any commercial — are much like anything a politician promises during his campaign?

  10. This may have been one of the first things of yours that I read, Scalzi.

    True Lies. Not in our DVDs. Not on a VHS, either! Ah, Betamax, old and faithful. Is the machine still working? Yes!

  11. What a trip down Memory Lane! I remember the ad and reading about the case, as a teenager in the 90s. I always wondered how much grief the legal team that signed off on that ad got. Even though Pepsico won in the end, I’m sure defending themselves against this suit incurred a nontrivial expense and caused some anxiety. It could have been avoided with a disclaimer or by making the number of Pepsi Points needed for the jet much higher (like 700 million or 7 billion).

  12. “The notion of traveling to school in a Harrier Jet is an exaggerated adolescent fantasy…No school would provide landing space for a student’s fighter jet, or condone the disruption the jet’s use would cause.”

    Private parking outside the school grounds, obviously.

  13. Interesting timing. I recently saw this case referred to in the context of Donald Trump’s 5 million dollar lawsuit against Bill Maher.

  14. This came up as a plot element on 30 Rock where John Hodgman collected the necessary Splurge points to “own” Jenna Maroney.

  15. Do you mean those Japanese documentaries where every student has a fighter jet slash giant robot are lies too? I am crushed, I tell you. Crushed.

  16. I just learned on NPR that “True Lies” introduced the American public to the term jihad.

    Not in the good way.

  17. I don’t think that $70 million price tag includes the fuel, ammo & Sidewinders either…

  18. I remember this case from one of my business law classes in college! We read a whole bunch of cases, including the judges’ decisions. Usually pretty dry reading, but not always. Who says contract law has to be boring? As I recall, the judge managed to convey “you idiot” pretty clearly without ever actually saying/writing it.

  19. What about the cost of the cans?Each can costs in actual price lets just keep it simple at $1. So actually he should of been required to come up with 7 million dollars–NOT $700,000. So maybe PepsiCo could argue that fact. Though then again maybe he could manage to raise that. Though since he did not have that amount when he filed the suit it wouldn’t count, right! I gotta say John this revisiting of old material is AWESOME!!!! I know for me it’s all new, as I’m sure it is for a lot of your newer fans. Thank You, this is really great.

  20. @ Farley

    I just learned on NPR that “True Lies” introduced the American public to the term jihad.

    Jihad means struggle against evil. In the Quran it has two meanings. It primarily refers to overcoming one’s own sheitans, or demons, the duty of jihad of the soul. It’s secondary meaning refers to struggling against heretics. This is where it gets fuzzy. Some hadith jurists believe that since the Quran allows for peace with People of the Book (Abrahamic and possibley Buddhist religions) who have not submitted to Allah (are not Muslim), the duty of jihad is not against all infidels, but only heretics (Muslims who renounce Islam). Others consider it a generalized holy war, though this explicitly contravenes several Quranic verses, all of which are believed to be the word of Allah as spoken through the angel Gabriel (who is usually the mouthpiece of God in the Abrahamic traditions). Of course the original crusade was Jesus’s progression through the stations of the cross on his way to being crucified. Amazing how quickly the violent meanings become the only ones anyone bothers with.

    I’ve seen True Lies three or four times and never once remembered it’s use of the term jihad.

    @ jboorn

    What would it feel like to have Pepsi piped through your veins? Man that would mess somebody up.

    I would imagine it feels like hypoxia.

  21. It depends on the school; mine had sufficient in the way of grounds to accommodate a few Harriers. The judge was obviously not acquainted with English public schools, though I concede that our headmistress might not have been overly keen…

  22. @Farley (and Gulliver) – At a minimum, those of us who are SF fans knew the term LONG before True Lies, either from Dune‘s Butlerian Jihad or from the animated Star Trek episode “The Jihad.”

    At max…someone at NPR has their erse oot the windae, as they put it in Glasgow. Just from the above two examples, it wasn’t an unknown term even three decades ago.

  23. @ Don Hilliard:

    Good point, although I don’t think the Butlerian Jihad gets mentioned in the first novel (though it’s been a while since I read it), which I’d guess is the only one most fans have probably read. I started reading religious texts back in my freshmen year of high school, but I didn’t discover the joy of SF until I happened on a copy of I, Robot in college, since when I’ve been making up for lost time and have come across jihad many times. SF is like religion, but without the pretense :)

  24. Ow, wow. That brings me back. This was one of those news stories I never heard the resolution of. Thanks for filling me in, previous commenters!

  25. @timeliebe:

    “It’s part of James Cameron’s filmmaking genius that you think that…”

    Are you suggesting that what I see on the moving pictures screen is not the be all/end all of reality? I am confused.


    “I just learned on NPR that “True Lies” introduced the American public to the term jihad.”

    It is SO like America to take our religious doctrinal cues from a James Cameron film.

  26. “Cassette stereo”
    Man. I haven’t had a cassette player in a car in, what, over 15 years? Not since I had a CD burner in my PC.

    @Gulliver, the Butlerian Jihad is mentioned in Dune, and discussed in the appendices.

  27. The guy never wanted the jet, never expected to get the jet. What he wanted, and I believe he got eventually, was a check from PepsiCo to shut up and go away. I think they should have hired Scalzi as an attorney – make the clown drink 16 million cans of Pepsi to collect. That would have been fair!

  28. Art Nalls, a retired Marine Colonel and pilot owns a Harrier as a private citizen. It flew its 100th private flight at an airshow in Michigan last summer. I smile when our political leaders say silly stuff like, “You can’t own a tank!” or, “You can’t own fighter to bomber aircraft!” American citizens own all of these things.

  29. Steve, you may not understand this reference, if you haven’t been following certain other discussions on here for the last month or so, but,

    Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!! Don’t get them started about tanks again.

  30. @Gulliver, I recently reread Dune (it was better the first time around). Jihad is mentioned quite frequently, in that Paul keeps trying to see a path to the future that avoids jihad, and eventually accepts that jihad is inevitable. The term “jihad” is used to mean “holy war” throughout the book, and as such is a commonly used word; it’s used instead of “crusade” because Herbert was trying to make a point. (The Fremen are at least of Muslim origin; when Jessica discusses their history, Ramadan is explicitly mentioned.) The Butlerian Jihad is mentioned at least once in the text, and described in more detail in the appendices.

  31. @Jack Lint, until my iPhone can diagnose diseases and analyze the composition of walls just by my pointing it at them, it’s a lousy tricorder.

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