Many television commercials over the decades offer the promise of a big prize, followed by fine print, informing us that it is only accessible under narrow conditions. There would be no ‘Pepsi, Where’s My Plane’, Netflix’s new documentary miniseries, if the beverage company hadn’t forgotten to attach the disclaimer to an ad in the 1990s offering a Harrier fighter jet worth $ more than 20 million.
Told in a suitably light style, the four-episode documentary series combines archival footage, re-enactments, snappy montages and interviews to revisit the story of one of the most shocking incidents in television advertising history. Director Andrew Renzi captures the spirit of 1990s pop culture and makes witty, funny expositions like an Adam McKay movie, alongside striking imagery, real-life characters, and plenty of well-exposed research.
Pepsi defined some of the 90s culture with its ads featuring David Bowie, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Cindy Crawford, but at one point the idea occurred to customers to accumulate “Pepsi Points” and use them to purchase products that would also be used to advertise. Further marking the mark, one such ad from 1996 featured a teenage Tom Cruise impersonation living his own ‘Top Gun’ racking up points until you get to school on a jet, with a headline that read “Harrier Fighter, 7,000,000 points “.
David (with investors) vs. Goliath
John Leonard, a university student, tried to convince the brand that, in his opinion, it had not kept its promise. Pepsi, where is my plane? tells us this very American story of Leonard literally walking up to Pepsi headquarters demanding that they hand over the fighter jet, as promised in their ad. This results in an easy legal battle, but Andrew Renzi’s four-part docu-series fills his time with enough “Americana” to make for a cheery dinnertime watch.
The series touches on the premise of a David against Goliath of mega-corporations or meditation on the notion of the “American Dream” in the midst of a capitalist society. Renzi, but enters into other disquisitions such as analyzing the essence of the advertising market, dominated by the Pepsi and Coca-Cola war. With an agile and colorful style, the series takes us through the different angles around the ‘promise’ of a jet, the interpretation of the offer as a parody and the limits of the legitimacy of mass advertising.
Leonard is joined on his mission by Todd Hoffman, a mentor willing to make the extra financial investment to earn the remaining points. A fictional recreation of the 90s is interspersed with current footage of them hiking up a mountain in Antarctica, revealing their decades-long friendship and love of mountain climbing, showing that the heart that beats beneath the game is the story of two friends who They face a giant.
Capitalist culture and Plato’s cave
Her story is supported by statements not only from relatives of Hoffman and Leonard, but also from Pepsi executives and their advertising agency who were in charge of that ad, lawyers, or Crawford herself. The documentary’s initial tone of not taking itself too seriously is interspersed with more intense parts, a legal drama, a discord, and a great cameo by Michael Avenatti that sticks to a similar tone to 80s films like ‘The Secret of my success’.
The most interesting segment than ‘Pepsi, where’s my plane?’ Saved for last is a brief exploration of the Pepsi incident in the Philippines, when a promotional offer from the brand made the promise of a grand prize of one million pesos that caused an increase in Pepsi sales in the Philippines in 1992, but which , however, multiple people won, rescinding the bid and ending in riots that resulted in the deaths of at least five people.
Regardless of the end result -it is better to be little informed about the subject- the docuseries is a light, agile and inconsequential journey that serves as a counterpoint to the elusive, increasingly unreliable tone of the true crimeand although perhaps with two episodes (or a movie) it was superfluous, it serves as a shock to naivety in the face of the methods of large companies to achieve profits, a clear exposure to consumer dynamics and how these define our entire (counter) culture and they are sufficiently integrated into the administrative and bureaucratic apparatus arranged so that the bank always wins.