Pepsi, Where’s my Jet? – Serial Review

There is such intense rivalry and competition between PepsiCo and Coca Cola Company that years ago when I was doing training for one of these companies, we were told multiple times via a memo, in person, and through email that we were not to bring any products of the competitor company in the facility, nor throw any such wrappers in the trash. Both companies engaged in multiple intense marketing campaigns to boost their own product lines, especially their flagship colas. The competition became so intense in 1980s and 1990s that it became known as the cola wars.

The rivalry between the companies had escalated so much that both companies made several strategic blunders, presumably in their haste to gain an upper hand over the competitor in key markets, world-wide.  In 1985, during the peak of this rivalry, as Coca-Cola was losing market share to Pepsi, it launched a new formula Coke which became known as “New Coke”. Consumer backlash against the change pressured the company to make a strategic retreat and reinstate old Coke as Coca-Cola Classic. Similarly, in 1992, Pepsi sought to crush Coke in Philippines where Coca-Cola had over 75% of market share. Pepsi launched an aggressive campaign, Pepsi Number Fever, later known as 349 incident. Due to a strategic computing error, the campaign led to riots, deaths and 22,000 people took legal action against PepsiCo. 

Pepsi, Where’s my Jet is a fascinating story of one monumental blunder. I don’t want to give spoilers here. But the incident is well known and often referred to in legal briefs and colleges as part of contract law. In brief, a young 20 year old spotted a loophole in an ad offering to redeem several million Pepsi points to win a fighter jet. This is a saga of how he found an investor, the company brought out their big gun attorneys, the young man ended up hiring an attorney by the name of Michael Avenatti. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the attorney of Story Daniels, an adult porn star and a former stripper who had an affair with Donald Trump and was then sent hush money through Michael Cohen. Her own attorney Michael Avenatti was later found to be involved in fraud and was incarcerated.

This series playfully unpacks the details of a high stakes but in the end, a victimless strategic error that could have had many serious ramifications. Media went into a frenzy over the incident with the corporation trying to use its clout to get the shows to be canceled, when possible and even the Pentagon felt a need to get involved and issue a statement on the incident. False advertising can cause many headaches for an organization and haste can mean big waste not only in lost opportunities, loss of market share and revenues but also loss of trust, lawsuits and more.

The series is currently playing on Netflix.


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