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Local News: Friday, August 06, 1999

Judge: No Harrier Jet For Seattle Consumer

The AP

NEW YORK - A federal judge weighing the merits of a lawsuit by a Seattle man has agreed with Pepsi that the company was only joking when it implied in a commercial that it was giving away a Harrier jet.

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood found that "no objective person could reasonably have concluded that the commercial actually offered consumers a Harrier jet."

But John Leonard saw the commercial and concluded it was no laughing matter when Pepsi implied that 7 million points in its "Pepsi Stuff" merchandise campaign could be redeemed for one Harrier jet. Wood denied the claim.

David Nachman, Leonard's lawyer, said his client was disappointed and would consider an appeal.

Because the company allowed customers to purchase points for 10 cents each, Leonard raised $700,000 among acquaintances and ordered a jet three years ago.

Pepsi wrote back: "The Harrier jet in the Pepsi commercial is fanciful and is simply included to create a humorous and entertaining ad. We apologize for any misunderstanding or confusion that you may have experienced and are enclosing some free coupons for your use."

The issue landed in federal court in Manhattan after Leonard sued Pepsi. Pepsi responded by asking the court for a declaratory judgment saying it did not have to give Leonard a Harrier jet, a fighter jet that was used extensively during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

In her 42-page opinion, Wood rejected Leonard's argument that the issue of whether the commercial conveyed a serious offer could be answered only by a jury composed of fellow members of the "Pepsi Generation."

Then she analyzed the commercial, which features a youth arriving to school in a Harrier jet.

She called the youth pictured sitting in the Harrier jet "a highly improbable pilot, one who could barely be trusted with the keys to his parents' car, much less the prize aircraft of the United States Marine Corps."

She called the notion of traveling to school in a Harrier jet an "exaggerated adolescent fantasy."

"This fantasy is, of course, extremely unrealistic," she said. "No school would provide landing space for a student's fighter jet or condone the disruption the jet's use would cause."

Wood said each jet normally sells for $23 million, so the possibility it could be bought for $700,000 was the first clue it was "a deal too good to be true."

In his legal claim, Leonard noted that Pepsi increased the number of points required to buy a jet to 700 million and implied that the change proved the soft drink maker knew people would believe they could buy a jet.

But the judge wrote: "The increase in the number of points needed to acquirer a Harrier jet may have been prompted less by the fear that reasonable people would demand Harrier jets and more by the concern that unreasonable people would threaten frivolous litigation."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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