Plaintiff’s insistence that the commercial appears to be a serious offer requires the Court to explain why the commercial is funny. Explaining why a joke is funny is a daunting task; as the essayist E. B. White has remarked, “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process. . . .” The commercial is the embodiment of what defendant appropriately characterizes as “zany humor.”
First, the commercial suggests, as commercials often do, that use of the advertised product will transform what, for most youth, can be a fairly routine and ordinary experience. The military tattoo and stirring martial music, as well as the use of subtitles in a Courier font that scroll terse messages across the screen, such as “MONDAY 7:58 AM,” evoke military and espionage thrillers. The implication of the commercial is that Pepsi Stuff merchandise will inject drama and moment into hitherto unexceptional lives. The commercial in this case thus makes the exaggerated claims similar to those of many television advertisements: that by consuming the featured clothing, car, beer, or potato chips, one will become attractive, stylish, desirable, and admired by all. A reasonable viewer would understand such advertisements as mere puffery, not as statements of fact, see, e.g., Hubbard v. General Motors Corp., 95 Civ. 4362(AGS), 1996 WL 274018, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. May 22, 1996) (advertisement describing automobile as “Like a Rock,” was mere puffery, not a warranty of quality), . . . and refrain from interpreting the promises of the commercial as being literally true.
Second, the callow youth featured in the commercial is a highly improbable pilot, one who could barely be trusted with the keys to his parents’ car, much less the prize aircraft of the United States Marine Corps. Rather than checking the fuel gauges on his aircraft, the teenager spends his precious preflight minutes preening. The youth’s concern for his coiffure appears to extend to his flying without a helmet. Finally, the teenager’s comment that flying a Harrier Jet to school “sure beats the bus” evinces an improbably insouciant attitude toward the relative difficulty and danger of piloting a fighter plane in a residential area, as opposed to taking public transportation.
Third, the notion of traveling to school in a Harrier Jet is an exaggerated adolescent fantasy. In this commercial, the fantasy is underscored by how the teenager’s schoolmates gape in admiration, ignoring their physics lesson. The force of the wind generated by the Harrier Jet blows off one teacher’s clothes, literally defrocking an authority figure. As if to emphasize the fantastic quality of having a Harrier Jet arrive at school, the Jet lands next to a plebeian bike rack. This fantasy is, of course, extremely unrealistic. No school would provide landing space for a student’s fighter jet, or condone the disruption the jet’s use would cause.
Fourth, the primary mission of a Harrier Jet, according to the United States Marine Corps, is to “attack and destroy surface targets under day and night visual conditions.” United States Marine Corps, Factfile: AV-8B Harrier II (last modified Dec. 5, 1995) . Manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, the Harrier Jet played a significant role in the air offensive of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. See id. The jet is designed to carry a considerable armament load, including Sidewinder and Maverick missiles. See id. As one news report has noted, “Fully loaded, the Harrier can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee–albeit a roaring 14-ton butterfly and a bee with 9,200 pounds of bombs and missiles.” Jerry Allegood, Marines Rely on Harrier Jet, Despite Critics, News & Observer (Raleigh), Nov. 4, 1990, at C1. In light of the Harrier Jet’s well-documented function in attacking and destroying surface and air targets, armed reconnaissance and air interdiction, and offensive and defensive anti-aircraft warfare, depiction of such a jet as a way to get to school in the morning is clearly not serious even if, as plaintiff contends, the jet is capable of being acquired “in a form that eliminates [its] potential for military use.”
Fifth, the number of Pepsi Points the commercial mentions as required to “purchase” the jet is 7,000,000. To amass that number of points, one would have to drink 7,000,000 Pepsis (or roughly 190 Pepsis a day for the next hundred years–an unlikely possibility), or one would have to purchase approximately $700,000 worth of Pepsi Points. The cost of a Harrier Jet is roughly $23 million dollars, a fact of which plaintiff was aware when he set out to gather the amount he believed necessary to accept the alleged offer. Even if an objective, reasonable person were not aware of this fact, he would conclude that purchasing a fighter plane for $700,000 is a deal too good to be true.
Plaintiff argues that a reasonable, objective person would have understood the commercial to make a serious offer of a Harrier Jet because there was “absolutely no distinction in the manner” in which the items in the commercial were presented. Plaintiff also relies upon a press release highlighting the promotional campaign, issued by defendant, in which “[n]o mention is made by [defendant] of humor, or anything of the sort.” These arguments suggest merely that the humor of the promotional campaign was tongue in cheek. Humor is not limited to what Justice Cardozo called “[t]he rough and boisterous joke . . . [that] evokes its own guffaws.” Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co., 250 N.Y. 479, 483, 166 N.E. 173, 174 (1929). In light of the obvious absurdity of the commercial, the Court rejects plaintiff’s argument that the commercial was not clearly in jest. . . .
For the reasons stated above, the Court grants defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
(from Leonard vs. Pepsico.)