Every so often, an old Pizza Hut ad gets recirculated online, usually accompanied by incredulity and a keen sentiment of what the fuck. This time is no different: Mikhail Gorbachev — yes, that Gorbachev, a.k.a. the last leader of the Soviet Union before its collapse in 1991 — arrives at a Moscow Pizza Hut with his granddaughter. Diners gawk at their former premier, before wide-eyed surprise devolves into an argument. “Because of him, we have economic confusion!” an older man exclaims. A younger man with blond hair and an air of contemporary coolness counters: “Because of him, we have opportunity!”
Back and forth they bicker — Gorbachev brought political instability! Freedom! Complete chaos! Hope! — until the grandmother of the table steps in: “Because of him we have many things like Pizza Hut!” The older man, conceding, raises his pizza slice and leads the restaurant in a toast to the former premier: “Hail to Gorbachev!” Pizza Hut, at least, is something they can all agree on.
The irony of the former head of the Soviet Union shilling for a greasy symbol of American and global consumerism is not lost on anyone. Evidently, Gorbachev did it for the same reason that any person would: ca$h money!!! Gorbachev explained to the New York Times in 1997 that he needed the fee — rumored to be close to $1 million, or at least more than the 150,000-pound rate Pamela Anderson commanded — to finance the eponymous research foundation he started after leaving office. Gorbachev said he had received many other offers to endorse products, but had declined them all except for Pizza Hut.
His excuse: “I thought that it is a people’s matter — food,” he told the Times. “This is why if my name works for the benefit of consumers, to hell with it — I can risk it.”
To add an extra layer of irony, the commercial may have been filmed in Moscow, but it was never broadcast in Russia. Per the Times:
Esteemed in the West as the statesman who ended the cold war, Mr. Gorbachev is extremely unpopular in Russia, where he is blamed for allowing the Soviet Union to fall apart and for not having pushed reform of the command economy far enough. When he ran for the presidency last year — his first campaign for public office — he won less than 1 percent of the vote. To put it another way, Mr. Gorbachev’s endorsement of Pizza Hut could well cause sales in Moscow to drop dramatically.
Although the ad was widely mocked when it was released, even making Time’s 2010 list of the “Top 10 Embarrassing Celebrity Commercials,” Gorbachev was apparently not deterred, going on to appear in a Louis Vuitton ad photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue. Ideology may be fleeting, but pizza and luxury handbags are forever.