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Blame it on the cola: Lawsuits that prove you can sue Pepsi for just about anything

Blame it on the cola: Lawsuits that prove you can sue Pepsi for just about anything

Many people blame cola for some of the world’s ills such as obesity and tooth decay. And that’s not without basis. Colas are delicious and satisfying, but they aren’t the healthiest of drinks. And if consumers choose not to consume cans of pop, they could just not buy them from stores, much less chug them.

The legal system has had its fair share of loony lawsuits against big companies that didn’t quite align with consumers’ perceptions of quality. These lawsuits against the Pepsi company prove that the non-alcoholic beverage industry isn’t safe from such types of lawsuits, either.

Attorneys against colas

Northeastern University School of Law professor Richard A. Daynard was known for his battle against the tobacco industry. This may be a little known fact, but he was also at the forefront of the battle against colas. Fortunately for Mr. Daynard and the group of lawyers that launched the battle against tobacco companies, the fight was won. This is why most cigarette marketing strategies are tempered and come with a warning.

In 2006, Mr. Daynard wanted to duplicate that success with colas, which he alleged were one of the prime causes of obesity. He and his team attempted to file suit against Big Cola in the state of Massachusetts. The case was specifically intended for schools that have vending machines with the evil fizzy drinks in them. His band of soft drinks fighters even placed an ad in local newspapers urging families to come forward with their cola complaints.

It wasn’t as successful as the tobacco lawsuit, but some states such as California took notice and banned the sale of sodas in schools — no lawsuits necessary.

Since then, cola makers have introduced a dizzying array of cola varieties to satiate every taste of discerning drinkers and crusaders against colas. Now there are no sugar, less sugar, diet, light, ultra light, super extra light, and so-light-it-doesn’t-even-taste-like-cola-anymore varieties.

The people of the Philippines versus Pepsi

Avoiding obesity and bad teeth is a great reason not to chug soft drinks. Here’s another one: when a cola company pulls a marketing stunt that ends up destroying lives.

In 1993, Pepsi launched a very successful marketing campaign in the Philippines. The campaign, a lucky draw called Number Fever, was simple. Buy Pepsi products to earn a chance to win one million pesos in cash.

The short story of a lengthy and protracted legal fight between the citizens of the Philippines and Pepsi was that an error caused a wrong number to be drawn. Instead of printing millions of non-winning codes, Pepsi printed millions of the lucky winning code: 349.

The fiasco not only resulted in boycotts of Pepsi products in the country but also riots and rallies that invoked even CEOs and government officials, including the Philippines’ and the United States’ heads of state.

Pepsi spent millions of dollars in lawsuits for actual damages and “moral and exemplary” damages, and earned the company a reputation for being a scammer. For a couple of years, at least. To this day, Pepsi is consumed in the Philippines, with the memory of that saga all but erased.

The joke that landed with a thud

The 349 fiasco wasn’t Pepsi’s only screw-up in the ’90s. Following the lucky draw disaster in the Philippines, Pepsi aggrieved a young man right here in the land of the free. It’s a small consolation that at least this one didn’t involve rioting.

In 1996, John Leonard saw a Pepsi ad urging consumers to collect “Pepsi points,” which can be used to redeem shirts, caps, and other collectibles. The ad cheekily added that those who collect seven million points (which was impossible to do unless a person was buying entire Pepsi bottling facilities) could buy the jet featured in the ad.

While the rest of America laughed at the ad, Mr. Leonard thought, “That’s a nice jet. Lemme take out my passbook and buy that!” Mr. Leonard, who was a business student at the time, did the math and figured out how he could buy the jet using Pepsi points, which he amassed with the help of investors and some business-school smarts.

When Pepsi refused to hold their end of the bargain, Mr. Leonard sued the soda giant for fraud and breach of contract. The lawsuit was summarily dismissed and was largely thought of as a nuisance suit, and rightly so. But one would think that several years after 349-gate, Pepsi would have carefully thought about being playful with its ads’ messaging after their disastrous marketing mistake overseas.

Bad for the teeth AND for the sea

Still not convinced that the fizzy drinks are bad news? Their allegedly environment-unfriendly practices just might convert you into a juice or iced tea drinker.

In 2020, California-based environmental organization Earth Island Institute sued Pepsi and other cola bottlers and consumer products companies for lying about the recyclability of their product containers. Per Earth Island, at the rate these companies are going, their plastic products will replace most of marine life by 2050.

The organization demanded Pepsi and the other companies named in the complaint to clean up their environmental mess by funding clean-up efforts and properly labeling their products contained in plastics. Perhaps something like “Warning: Could choke fish” or “Consuming this product hastens global warming” would do.

Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams can represent you in a personal injury and family law case in the Evergreen State. At our Renton law offices, we serve water, coffee, and tea. But you can call us at 425-448-4740 or leave us a message too.