The Cold War involved many periods of terrifying nuclear brinkmanship and proxy wars that raged throughout the world, taking unnecessary lives and destabilizing nations all over the globe with imperialist meddling. All of this could have been avoided if only the West knew that they could deploy the mediocre taste of an American pizza chain and good old fashioned capitalist brand warfare to undermine the Soviet Union’s leaders. Case in point: A recently resurfaced Pizza Hut ad starring the former (and final) Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, which really has to be seen to be believed.
The ad aired toward the end of 1997, less than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union. In it, Gorbachev walks into a Russian Pizza Hut along with his granddaughter. His fellow diners spot him and begin discussing whether Gorbachev should be admired or despised for presiding over the Soviet Union’s dissolution.
“Because of him, we have economic confusion!” an older man says, describing the economy of ‘90s Russia in a pretty generous light.
“Because of him, we have opportunity!” replies a younger guy at his table.
“Because of him, we have political instability!” says the diplomatically outraged older man in return.
“Because of him, we have freedom!”
Their argument continues back and forth until the elderly lady with them cuts in to say, “Because of him, we have many things...like Pizza Hut!”
While this statement could be good ammunition for either side’s point, the table instead smiles and nods at one another. Like a group of greasy-mouthed Winston Smiths stating their love of Big Brother, the restaurant is united and the previously critical older man stands up, raising a slice toward the last Soviet leader, to announce, “Hail to Gorbachev!” Everyone joins in and it builds into a rousing chant.
The commercial has floated around the internet for years, but it popped back up into view earlier this week when @zei_nabq tweeted it out again (along with Gorbachev’s equally fascinating Louis Vuitton ad.)
As an old CNN article explains, Gorbachev “agreed to do the commercial...only so that he could earn money” for his “library and a perestroika archive.” Somehow, despite the above video providing evidence otherwise, the former leader “would not have agreed to promote just anything,” but appeared in the Pizza Hut spot because “pizza is a special kind of food [that] does what he always wanted to do: It brings people together.”
“It’s an important part of life. It’s not only consumption, it’s also socializing,” he’s quoted as saying. “If I didn’t see that it was beneficial for people, I wouldn’t have agreed to it.”
Many have a less glowing opinion of this impressive rationalization for a pizza-based sell-out.
They might be onto something. Now, in 2019, we live in a world where the brands, and the corporations that they represent, possess a level of power that rivals that of any nation-state. America and Gorbachev ensured a less obvious form of mutually assured destruction when they agreed to the Pizza Hut ad, arming a new, extranational influence on geopolitics and global culture in the hopes of making money for their respective causes. At the end of the commercial, a babushka in black looks toward a grey horizon as the Pizza Hut chant rings out all around her. As pointed out by @Alfred_Cloutier above, she’s the most striking figure in the commercial, thinking beyond pepperoni and mozzarella to gazing toward the strange, unsettling future we all live in now.