`Spoof' Or Not, He Wants Jet -- Pepsi Ad `Promised' To Award Harrier, Lynnwood Man Says

A promise is a promise: That's John Leonard's point.

Now the 21-year-old Lynnwood man expects PepsiCo Inc. to live up to an offer it made in one of its ads. Even if, as the company maintains, the offer was intended as a joke. Even if the proposed giveaway is a $70 million Harrier fighter jet.

If they don't, Leonard says he plans to sue.

It all began last October when Leonard saw ad as part of a Pepsi Stuff promotion in which customers who've racked up the necessary points on beverage containers could claim a variety of prizes. As a joke, the company also "offered" the jet for 7 million points. Leonard saw the ad during a regional test run. When it debuted nationally, the point figure for the jet was boosted to 700 million.

At first Leonard thought of doing it the hard way by collecting the required proofs of purchase. But although he's a 10-can-a-day guy, he soon realized it would take too long to get to his goal that way.

He called the company and found out that he also had the option of buying Pepsi points for 10 cents each.

"It was a pretty clear offer they made, and I thought they'd uphold it," he said.

Leonard, who once flew a Cessna with an instructor, said he's always been interested in flying and has considered becoming a pilot. Mostly he saw in the plane a good entrepreneurial venture, possibly hiring it out for thrill rides.

"It looks like it could be a great business," he said. And getting a $70 million military jet that can hover and fly backward for $700,000 would, Leonard acknowledged, "be a good turnover on my investment."

Leonard, a business student at Shoreline Community College, put together a business plan and began approaching contacts he's made while working as an assistant guide for a mountain-climbing company.

The project consumed Leonard and for the next few months he said he put in 40 to 60 hours a week researching existing case law - particularly those about firms living up to their offers - and making copies of the commercial and explaining his plan to potential backers.

Five individual investors from the East Coast committed to put up the $700,000 he needed to claim his prize with Pepsi. The investors, some of whom he met mountain climbing, wanted to remain anonymous.

For his trouble, the company sent him a series of angry letters and coupons for three cases of pop.

"They said they were joking and I had already gone through six months of work and raised the money," Leonard said. "I sent the coupons back to them."

Leonard, who said he has already sunk about $3,000 to $4,000 into his quest, eventually talked to his Florida attorney, Larry Schantz, and asked him to draw up a lawsuit for making a fraudulent offer and breach of contract. A copy went to Pepsi.

The company responded with a pre-emptive suit filed in federal court in New York. The suit sought to have Leonard's claims declared frivolous and sought reimbursement for the company's attorney fees.

"The (commercial) itself and the Harrier at the end is clearly a spoof, and I think everyone knows that, but I think Mr. Leonard is clearly getting carried away," said Brad Shaw, a Pepsi spokesman.

Leonard said he's intent on seeing through his suit. He denied it was a publicity stunt or a scheme to get Pepsi to settle out of court.

"I didn't want any publicity on this," he said. "They brought the public light on this. My sole intention was to get the plane. I'm not trying to make a statement. I'm not looking for a settlement. I just want a plane."

Last week, the day after the company filed its suit, Leonard was invited to New York to talk with its officials. A meeting has been set for next Friday, where it's unlikely they'll be promising him the moon.

formation from Dow Jones News Service was included in this report.