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Pepsi Harrier-Jet Case: What are the four elements of a valid contract?

You are still working for the City of Bigtown's Counsel, and it seems that your work largely involves shooting down the mayor's "creative" ideas to boost tourism. He is taken with the idea of an advertising campaign developed around auctioning Bigtown on eBay! He thinks that no one will take the auction seriously but that people will come to Bigtown to satisfy their curiosity.

As you and your boss are rolling your eyes at each other, you remember a similar situation - the Pepsi Harrier-Jet case. You offer to provide background information and write an executive summary addressing specific issues around contracts.

Seattle Man Loses in Battle With Pepsi for Harrier-Jet Prize

LEAD STORY-DATELINE:
Wall Street Journal, August 9, 1999.

John D.R. Leonard took PepsiCo seriously when one of their "Pepsistuff" commercials made an offer of a Harrier jet, the famous high-tech "jump jet" used by the U.S. Marines. In a TV commercial that aired in 1995, Pepsi jokingly included the Harrier as one of the prizes that could be received with a "mere" 7 million Pepsi points. While that sounds like a lot of points to get from drinking Pepsi products (roughly 190 Pepsis a day for 100 years), the company also allowed customers to purchase points for 10 cents a piece.

Leonard did the math, and discovered that the cost of the 7 million points needed for the jet was a mere $700,000. He then put together a business plan, raised the $700,000 from friends and family, and submitted 15 Pepsi points, the check, and an official order form along with a demand for the Harrier jet.

PepsiCo wrote back, stating: "The Harrier jet in the Pepsi commercial is fanciful and is simply included to create a humorous and entertaining ad. We apologize for any misunderstanding or confusion that you may have experienced and are enclosing some free product coupons for your use."

The free coupons did not satisfy Leonard, who then took PepsiCo to task in court. Finally, on August 5, 1999, a federal judge for the Southern District of New York held that PepsiCo was only joking when it implied in its ad that it was giving away fighter jets. Judge Wood noted that since the jets sell for approximately $23 million each, "no objective person could reasonably have concluded that the commercial actually offered consumers a Harrier jet." Instead, this was a classic example of "a deal too good to be true."

If you wish to find out more about this case (and the rationale underlying Judge Wood's decision) you can view the entire opinion and order.

Write a executive summary answering the following questions:

What are the four elements of a valid contract?
Describe the objective theory of contracts. How does that theory apply to this case?
Why do you think the court held that there was not a valid agreement here?
Are advertisements generally considered offers? Why or why not?
How does this case differ from a reward situation, where a unilateral contract is formed upon completion of the requested act?

Hints for Excellent Work: Be sure to include definitions for the four elements of a valid contract. Also, your answer to Question 3 should show that you read the Court's opinion. Finally, be sure to respond in relation to the Mayor's proposal.

Please include your references.

Solution Preview

Please see response attached for best formatting. I hope this helps and take care.

RESPONSE:

Interesting case, indeed. I will respond to your questions in the order that you presented them.

1. What are the four elements of a valid contract?

The following definition includes the four elements that make a contract valid:

Contract

An agreement between persons, which obliges each party to do or not to do a certain thing. Technically, a valid contract requires an offer and an acceptance of that offer, and, in common law countries, consideration. (http://duhaime.sprynewmedia.com/dictionary/dict-c.htm#C)

Offer
A explicit proposal to contract which, if accepted, completes the contract and binds both the person that made the offer and the person accepting the offer to the terms of the contract. See also "acceptance".

Acceptance
One of three requisites to a valid contract under common law (the other two being an offer and consideration). A contract is a legally binding agreement between two or more parties which starts with an offer from one person but which does not become a contract until the other party signifies an unequivocal willingness to accept the terms of that offer. The moment of acceptance is the moment from which a contract is said to exist, and not before. Acceptance need not always be direct and can, in certain circumstances, be implied by conduct (see acquiescence below).

Acquiescence
Action or inaction which binds a person legally even though it was not intended as such. For example, action which is not intended as a direct acceptance of a contract will nevertheless stand as such as it implies recognition of the terms of the contract. For example, if I display a basket of fruit in a marketplace and you come by, inspect an apple and then bite into it, you have acquiesced to the contract of sale of that apple. Acquiescence also refers to allowing too much time to pass since you had knowledge of an event which may have allowed you to have legal recourse against another, implying that you waive your rights to that legal recourse (http://duhaime.sprynewmedia.com/dictionary.htm).

Another interesting article that you may want to refer to is on-line at URL: http://duhaime.sprynewmedia.com/contract/ca-con1.htm introducing the idea of definitions of contracts change by country. Be sure to read this article and apply the correct definition (i.e., as in your course content). For example, the United States adheres to the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) (refer to site http://www.law.cornell.edu/ucc/ucc.table.html for full details). Definitions are ...

Solution Summary

Based of the case study, the four elements of a valid contract are described, as well as the objective theory of contracts and how it applies to this case. Other questions relating contracts with the case are also discussed.

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