Fifteen years ago, I could’ve never imagined defining documentaries as ‘fun’. But how things have changed! The 2022 Netflix docu-series ‘Pepsi, Where’s My Jet’ is one hell of an entertaining documentary about how a Seattle boy sued Pepsi in the 1990s over an advertisement claiming one could get a Harrier jet if they collected enough ‘pepsi points’.
John Leonard was only 20 when he saw a Pepsi ad introducing their glitzy sweepstakes campaign. It was on the lines of – ‘buy pepsi, get points, collect enough and exchange them for our merchandise’. A teen flew in with a Harrier jet to school at the end of the advertisement and said “sure beats the bus”. John decided he was going to get the jet at any cost. Todd Hoffman, an adventurous businessman who John met at one of his trekking expeditions as a guide, decided to help the young man out. What ensued was an unexpected legal battle lasting years and plenty of media attention which gave the duo what some would call ‘fifteen minutes of fame’.
Interestingly, the documentary does get both sides of the story, sure, the narrative is driven largely by John and Todd, but the series also features interviews from top Pepsi executives at the time and creatives behind the ad that landed the cola company in trouble. Spread over 4 well crafted episodes, the first one was absolutely fantastic and engaging, while things do get a little slower in the next three. Getting a step ahead from regular documentaries, Netflix uses a bunch of actors to re-create scenes from the 90s, and they have plenty of file footage (including news clips) to intersperse in between. Add to that a bunch of the biggest hits from the 90s as background music, and you get a groovier than usual ‘advertising gone wrong/David Vs Goliath’ story. Pepsi thought these two crazy idiots from Seattle just wanted some quick money, but John seriously desired the Harrier, a military aircraft and even had an extensive plan for what he intended to do with it.
It’s laudable that the creators keep the tone of the series light and energetic for most of the runtime. Nobody goes out of their way to slander the other party. Okay, actually, both sides do say some mean things, but largely in good humor. It helps that John Leonard seems like a really nice guy, who truly believed Pepsi owed him a jet. And since this is a Netflix production, you have some hilarious exchanges like the following –
Interviewee: I said, “You know what? The hell with them man.” I mean I’d use a different language if I weren’t on Camera.
Someone behind the camera: This is Netflix. You can use whatever language you want
Interviewee: Fuck them.
The series highlights how serious the ‘Coca-Cola Vs Pepsi’ rivalry was, popularly known as the ‘cola wars’. Cindy Crawford, brand-ambassador for Pepsi back then, also gives her two-cents on the crazy competition between the brands. In a really cool move, the documentary also has an interview with Jenna Dolan, the first woman to fly the Harrier Jet operationally and in combat. She is brought in to explain how the Jet functions.
To make the primary interviewees seem more human/cool/interesting, the series spends more time than necessary dwelling upon John and Todd’s friendship. Although, the duo definitely makes a great example for friendship between two men who come from different worlds and stuck with each other through a crazy legal battle that grabbed national headlines.
It’s a 8/10 from me. Stream it on Netflix.
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