The Pepsi Jet — and other marketing f**k-ups

What happens when a global soda giant's marketing stunt goes so horribly wrong that it ends up in a legal battle over a fighter jet?

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Today’s Briefing

  • Story: “Pepsi, Where’s My F**king Jet?” 🤔

  • Insight: The Fragility of Reputation ❤️‍🩹

  • Action: The Small Test Audience Challenge 🥼


“Pepsi, Where’s My F**king Jet?” 🤔

It's the mid-90s, and Pepsi's got a promo idea so unhinged, they're pretty sure it'll help them bitch-slap Coca-Cola back to the stone age and claim their rightful place as the supreme leader of the soda empire.

But, back then, here's how companies usually thought about promos:

  • Keep it simple, stupid — just offer some branded merch and call it a day

  • Ain't nobody got time or money for outrageous grand prizes

  • If you dangle something too crazy, customers will f**king riot

Pepsi decides to take an Evel Knievel-level leap and go completely off the rails. They figure, "Screw it, let's get nuts and really get people's attention!"

🏆 Enter the "Pepsi Stuff" promotion.

The offer: Pepsi's like, "Buy our sugary shit, collect points, and you can score dope swag! T-shirts, leather jackets, and even...wait for it...A F**KIN' HARRIER JET!"

The insanity: A few of their customers are like, "You're gonna give away a $37 million military-grade jump jet...for drinking corn syrup-laden brominated vegetable oil?!"

But Pepsi's just nodding and winking, thinking there's no way anyone's crazy enough to actually try and get 7 million points for the jet. It's just a crazy attention grabber, right?

Wrong. John Leonard, a business student chugging Pepsi like it's the cure for whiskey dick, is hoarding points faster than a squirrel on crack. This lunatic even duped some sucker into bankrolling his insane plan, morphing into a jacked-up, caffeinated nightmare that makes the Tasmanian Devil look like a f**king yoga instructor.

Through sheer psychotic determination, Leonard collects 7 million points (thanks to a flaw in their point system that says they could buy 7 million points for just $700,000) and tells them: "GIMME MY JET!"

Pepsi's minds are blown. They're like "Um, the jet was just a joke, bro. No one was supposed to actually try for it!"

Leonard's not having it. He slaps Pepsi with a fat lawsuit, claiming their advertising broke an unwritten bro code of misleading promotions.

The whole fiasco goes to court in a legal Battle Royale. The judges rule that while Pepsi didn't straight-up commit fraud, their jet offer was technically legit under some confusing promo law shit.

The result? As the final verdict was read, Leonard's dreams of soaring through the clouds in a Harrier jet came crashing down. The court, in its infinite wisdom, had awarded him a mere $23, a sum that felt like a slap in the face after his relentless pursuit of justice.

The aftermath: Pepsi had dodged a bullet, but the scars of their deception would forever tarnish their legacy. The case of Leonard v. Pepsi Co. became a cautionary tale, taught in law and business schools across the nation as a lesson in the dangers of deceptive marketing and corporate accountability.

The epilogue: But here’s the thing, big companies swing for the fences and whiff all the time:

Did people become more easily offended as time went on? Obviously, yes, but brands must protect themselves whatever climate they may be in. The same is true — if not more so — for your personal reputation.

Key takeaway: When doing crazy promos, make sure you're not so crazy that you legally have to give someone a multimillion dollar death machine for buying corn syrup water.


The Fragility of Reputation ❤️‍🩹

"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it." -

We've seen people lose their reputations overnight over and over again. Whether it's Tiger Woods (affairs), Lance Armstrong (doping), Mel Gibson (DUI + racism), their fans often never look at them the same way.

Here are two ways to avoid f**king up a 20-year reputation:

  1. Manage expectations properly to avoid disappointment and backlash. The Pepsi Jet fiasco showed the danger of making outrageous, unrealistic claims in advertising promotions. By including a military jet as a prize, Pepsi misled customers into believing it was attainable, leading to a lawsuit when expectations weren't met. Clear, unambiguous language is crucial.

  2. Have a solid crisis plan when marketing goes awry. Despite best efforts, campaigns can spiral unexpectedly. Pepsi assumed no one would seriously pursue the jet prize. Without a proper crisis response plan, the fiasco devolved into a prolonged legal and PR nightmare. Brands must anticipate the unexpected and have protocols to quickly address issues, make things right, and control the narrative.

In a world where reputations can crumble faster than a house of cards in a hurricane, it's crucial to manage expectations, have a solid crisis plan, and always keep a watchful eye on the potential pitfalls that could leave your brand's name — or your personal reputation — in the shithouse.


The Small Test Audience Challenge 🥼

There are expensive ways to protect your brand's reputation which involve PR, marketing reps, legal, and leadership (and Pepsi had ALL of these things but still f**ked up) — but marketing ideas can also be tested with small groups.

Here's how:

  • Define target audience demographics and psychographics.

  • Recruit a representative sample of 25-50 participants.

  • Present campaign concepts and materials to the group.

  • Conduct surveys and focus groups to gather feedback.

  • Analyze responses to identify potential issues and misinterpretations.

  • Refine campaign based on insights gained.

  • Incorporate findings into final campaign and crisis management plans.

By proactively testing with a small, representative audience, you can identify and mitigate potential problems before launching to the broader public.

Meme of the Week 🤣 

Bite-Sized Reads 📚

[Watch]: Uncover the full Pepsi jet story in the new Netflix documentary.

[Read]: "As Tiger came through, he noticed Wesling’s shirt to the left of the walkway and cracked a smile.”

[Read]: Pepsi’s 1992 campaign (4 years before the Pepsi jet) in the Philippines that cost them $32 Billion and led to major riots.

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Publisher: Jordan Belfort

Editors in Chief: Brock Swinson and Davis Richardson

DISCLAIMER: None of this is financial advice. This newsletter is strictly for educational purposes and is not investment advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any assets or to make any financial decisions. Please be careful and do your own research. 

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