“When opportunity presents itself, don’t be afraid to go after it,” was perhaps one 21-year-old college student’s motto in life. When the opportunity to own a Harrier jet presented itself, he was determined to seize it. The asking price of the fighter jet: 7 million Pepsi Points. When he went to claim his dream jet, however, the company refused to give it to him, and that’s when things started to get messy.

Pepsi’s Ad

When the Soviet Union exchanged its warships for Pepsi in the late 1980s, that was not the last time the company dabbled and had an affair with military equipment. From March 28 to October 31, 1996, Pepsi did it again when they ran the Pepsi Stuff program that offered Pepsi items that could be purchased from their catalog using Pepsi points. Buyers could get these points from specially marked Pepsi packages, or alternatively, they could buy points directly from Pepsi.

Their advertisement for the program was through a TV Super Bowl commercial that featured a young man flexing his shirt, leather jacket, and shades, all earned through the Pepsi Stuff program. As each item was shown, their equivalent purchase points were also shown at the bottom of the screen. In the last part of the 30-second clip, the child landed an AV-8 Harrier II jump jet at their school, shocking the students and causing the papers to fly all over the room, before opening its canopy and saying his line, “Sure beats the bus,” and then a text below the screen, “7 million Pepsi Points.” The commercial ended without stating that the Harrier part was merely a joke, thinking no one would take it seriously. Or so they thought.

When Pepsi naively put the allotted Pepsi points for the Harrier, they never really intended to give it to anyone, nor did they really offer the jet in exchange for points. Hence, they put the figures extremely low compared to the jet’s value. They also allowed the buyers to purchase points instead of buying specially marked Pepsi packages directly. These two would be the recipe for disaster that would enable the situation to escalate.

AV-8 Harrier II jump jet

The Harrier jump jet was unique and truly impressive with its vertical/short take-off and landing capabilities (V/STOL) and remained so even after 30 years after its first flight.

It is a jet-powered attack aircraft originally developed by British manufacturer Hawker Siddeley in the 1960s. During its era, many had attempted to design V/STOL aircraft, but only the Harrier became truly successful. Made to operate from improvised bases like car parks or forest clearing, it does not require spacious and vulnerable air bases. Soon, its design was also adapted for use by aircraft carriers.

The first generation version, known as the AV-8A Harrier, was used by air forces like the Royal Air Force and the United States Marine Corps. In the 1980s, the second generation Harrier came out and was manufactured in the United States, called the AV-8B, and in Britain as the British Aerospace Harrier II.