‘Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?’ Turns St. Louis Family Lore Into Netflix Success

The new documentary, a huge streaming hit, has several local connections

Dec 15, 2022 at 9:24 am
click to enlarge John Leonard's attempt to force PepsiCo to make good on its Pepsi Points promises is the focus of a new documentary, Pepsi, Where's My Jet? - SCREENSHOT VIA YOUTUBE
John Leonard's attempt to force PepsiCo to make good on its Pepsi Points promises is the focus of a new documentary, Pepsi, Where's My Jet?

Yesterday, the star of one of the hottest documentaries on Netflix arrived in St. Louis. John Leonard’s epic quest to force Pepsi to make good on a high-profile ad campaign is the wildly entertaining story told in Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?, which is now ranked in the streaming service’s top 10 in 13 different countries.

But Leonard wasn’t here to promote the film. He was just bringing his kids to see their grandparents for Christmas.

Leonard’s wife, Dottie, is one of the six Powers kids raised in Clayton by Pierce Powers Jr. and his wife Sue. And if the name Pierce Powers sounds familiar to you, there may be a few reasons for that — Pierce Powers Jr. is the founder and CEO of a local insurance company, as well as president of the World Affairs Council St. Louis nonprofit, which aims to help St. Louis make international connections. His son Pierce III is the co-owner of Lona’s Li’l Eats, the beloved Fox Park eatery where Pierce III and his wife Lona Luo serve the food of her native Yunnan province of China.

Pierce Powers Jr. notes that his son-in-law’s St. Louis ties are far from the only local connections to the film. Naturally, with a film focused on the ad industry, Jon Hamm makes a cameo. And as we get to episodes two and three, a native son gone bad, Parkway Central grad Michael Avenatti, threatens to steal the show. He’s a major character in John Leonard’s quest — and people familiar with Avenatti's legal travails for allegedly shaking down corporations may see intriguing parallels with the services he promises the young John Leonard. (Avenatti actually filmed his interviews for the documentary while under house arrest; he’s since reported to prison.)

So here’s the story: John Leonard is a college kid hustling his way through a series of part-time jobs in 1996 Seattle when he sees a Pepsi ad touting the new “Pepsi Points,” which people could earn from buying Pepsi. Sunglasses were 175 points; leather jackets were 1,450. And, the commercial promised, if you racked up 7,000,000 points, you could get a Harrier jet.

It was a joke — or was it? The commercial had no disclaimer, and the jets were worth millions more than it would cost to get the Pepsi points. After growing vaguely obsessed with the opportunity, Leonard decided to take Pepsi at its word and set out to claim the Harrier jet. Somehow, he convinced an older friend to invest $700,000 in his scheme, and obtained all the necessary points to claim his prize.

But Pepsi wasn’t amused. In fact, they ended up taking him to court. Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? winningly details the rest of the story, which includes Avenatti trying to take control of the media-relations strategy.

Powers Jr. had known about his son-in-law’s adolescent quest for a Harrier jet for decades — the story was “just kind of family lore,” Powers Jr. says. He adds, “It’s an advertising issue that’s taught in every law school, and Netflix had been saying to him for years that he should do a documentary.”

Sue Powers says Leonard was positively “hounded” to tell his story. “He’s a very shy guy,” she says. “It takes a little while to get to know him beyond the surface.”

The documentary takes viewers well beyond that surface. The Powers were thrilled to go to Los Angeles last month for the premiere. Now they’re watching proudly as the film notches a 100 percent score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

Asked for his takeaway from the film, Powers Jr. keeps it in the family.

“I can see how it is that my daughter has great admiration for him,” he says of his son-in-law. “He’s a pretty neat guy.”

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