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The Day Gorbachev Starred in a Pizza Hut Ad (What It Tells Us About ’90s Russia)

image source, Pizza Hut

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Gorbachev inside the Pizza Hut restaurant in the ad.

Under an umbrella, a man and a woman walk through the snow on an almost empty Red Square in Moscow.

It looks like a very cool day, perfect for lunch with the family in a safe place.

Set to dramatic background music, the spot features a couple in the foreground: a worried-looking old man in a black coat and hat and his smiling granddaughter.

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Pizza Hut Gorbachev ad

Within seconds they reach their destination: A Pizza Hut restaurant in the same Red SquareThe Central Esplanade treasures much of Soviet and Russian history.

But why, 24 years later, is this ad being shared as an era-defining icon?

Because the man in the black coat is—in fact, an American pizza advertiser Mikhail GorbachevThe last leader of the Soviet Union.

image source, Pizza Hut

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The ad begins in Red Square, which is closed for filming.

It was difficult to convince him

Gorbachev was adamant about whether he should act in the ad or not His wife, Raisa, was still uncomfortable with the idea.

On the one hand he needed money, and he was given more money. He is believed to have used it to fund the Gorbachev Foundation, a think tank he founded.

On the other hand, appearing in an ad for a major American company could further damage an already tarnished reputation within Russia.

“He said yes, then no, yes, then no,” Katie Bistrian, an American who represented Gorbachev, told the BBC.

This uncertainty is “perhaps a sign of confusion about the way the Russians negotiated or whether it was right for him or not.”

Gorbachev finally agreed, albeit with conditions: They won’t film him eating pizza (He left that part to his granddaughter) and he would have the final word on the script.

And, Bistrian says, he’ll only be wearing his own hat, even though he’s already been filmed wearing a different body double.

“He put on his own hat and asked, ‘How does it fit?’

Filmed in 1997 and broadcast the following year, it vividly reflects the problems of Russian society just a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

“It’s a one-minute lesson to contextualize Moscow in the 1990s,” academic Yuval Weber, a Russia expert who uses the ad as teaching material, tells the BBC.

The presence of an American chain of pizzerias in Moscow –Its first store opened in 1990– was a symbol of growing economic relations between the West and Russia.

But, as the ad makes clear, the reforms initiated by Gorbachev did not please everyone.

His leadership marked the opening of the Soviet economy Contributed An autocratic state has some level of democracy.

But the progressive decline of the system could not be prevented Many Russians blame him In years of continued economic and social turmoil.

image source, Pizza Hut

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At the end, the diners stand up to greet Gorbachev.

“By him, we …”

In the ad, a middle-aged man notices the former leader’s presence and shouts, “It’s Gorbachev!”

Then he complains: “Because of him, we have an economic mess.”

But a young man who openly represents the new generation responds: “Because of him, we have opportunities!”

The conversation continues: “Uncertainty,” “freedom,” “confusion” and “hope” are concepts used by restaurateurs to define what Gorbachev brought to Russia.

For Weber, who works at the Bush School of Governors at Texas A&M University, the conversation is reflective The realities of Russian society at that time.

“You have a middle-aged man who has not been clear about things for the last 10 years. He thinks that what Gorbachev represents is a lack of stability,” he explains.

“At the same time, we have the younger guy: he’s young and capable enough to take advantage of any opportunity that comes with the transition from one economic system to another.”

An argument between the two men is resolved through the intervention of an elderly woman who has her own reasons to be grateful to Gorbachev.

“Because of him, we have … Pizza Hut,” he says.

No one can argue with this, and after a minute’s thought, a middle-aged man unhappy with Russia’s economic mess stands up, grabs a slice of pizza and exclaims: “Congratulations to Gorbachev!

The atmosphere is changing. In an instant, the entire restaurant joins in the celebration. Gorbachev smiles and waves his hands as his granddaughter rubs them together.

A video for history

Using Gorbachev as a source of conflict and pizza as a unifying element was the idea behind the ad’s creators.

“We were looking for a way to use Gorbachev (…) as a source of controversy and bring the pizza people together. At least he brought them pizza and they could agree that it was a good thing,” said one of the screenwriters. ., Tom Derbyshire, for Newshour on the BBC World Service.

The ad aired in several countries but Never in RussiaThere he was ridiculed by the press.

In the West, it has become a cult video that resurfaces every few years on social networks, rediscovering for many the strange irony of a former Soviet leader selling American pizzas.

Gorbachev will be remembered in many ways: revered in the West for his role in ending the Cold War, but widely shunned in Russia for the economic and social upheaval brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nearly 25 years later, the ad reflects both sides of his legacy.

What happened to Pizza Hut in Russia? Almost a quarter of a century after the ad was shot, The brand was withdrawn from the country In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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