Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, former leader Mikhail Gorbachev found himself adrift. Political jockeying with a new regime had resulted in his pension barely amounting to $2 a month. His Russian Federation was in desperate need of funding to keep the lights on. For Gorbachev, the answer to his problems came from an unlikely source: Pizza Hut.
In a longform piece for Foreign Policy, author Paul Musgrave details the bizarre marriage of a former world superpower and an American pizza chain that resulted in Gorbachev briefly turning into a spokesperson for the brand.
In 1997, Pizza Hut’s advertising agency BBDO began pursuing a directive from the company to execute a campaign that presented the franchise as having global reach. Through intermediaries, it became apparent Gorbachev’s money woes allowed him to consider an appearance. For an undisclosed fee—reportedly in the seven figures when adjusted for inflation—the onetime world leader would appear in the spot but not eat the pizza. (A family member did, however. Gorbachev’s granddaughter, Anastasia Virganskaya, took a bite.)
You can watch the spot above, which was shot at an actual Pizza Hut in Moscow and features Gorbachev as more of a supporting player. The real conflict is between two men—possibly a father and son—arguing over Russian ideals. But the hook was clearly the novelty of seeing one of the most powerful figures in the world joining the ranks of Mr. Whipple and Flo from Progressive Insurance.
While Gorbachev did refuse to eat pizza onscreen, he had no such reservations during the shooting of the commercial. Everyone in the cast and crew had pizza for lunch that day.
[h/t Foreign Policy]