The Last Soviet Leader’s Adventures in Advertising
Mikhail Gorbachev pushed pizza and fancy leather bags
When Julius Caesar returned to Rome after conquering the Gauls, he paraded the Gallic leader Vercingetorix through the streets of the mighty city. It was part of a ritual called the triumph, where the Roman general dressed as god-king and displayed his vanquished foe before throngs of plebs.
When America won the Cold War, the Pizza Hut restaurant chain hired former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and his granddaughter to push pizza on the East.
Gorbachev needed the cash. The West has lauded the last Soviet leader for helping to tear down the Iron Curtain. He was — and is — less highly regarded in Russia. After he left office in 1991, many in the collapsing Soviet Union blamed Gorbachev for the country’s instability and economic woes.
Shortly after he left government, authorities evicted him from his Moscow apartment. The Kremlin kept a stranglehold on his pension, allowing Gorbachev an insulting two dollars a month through much of the 1990s.
In 1997, he made a bunch of money shilling for Pizza Hut. The Kremlin had made his life a living Hell and much of his country blamed him for its problems. Gorbachev needed the money and a Western pizza joint was his only job prospect.
A decade later, Gorbachev went to work selling Louis Vuitton.
In the photo ad for the bag line, Gorbachev observes the remnants of the Berlin Wall. A Russian magazine pokes out of his leather Louis Vuitton handbag. “The Murder of Litvinenko: They Wanted to Give Up the Suspect for $7,000,” the headline reads.
Alexander V. Litvinenko was a former KGB agent who died of radiation poisoning in 2006. As he succumbed, he accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of arranging his assassination via polonium-tainted sushi. Gorbachev, Louis Vuitton, the ad’s photographer and and the advertising agency all deny orchestrating the odd coincidence.
Gorbachev hasn’t appeared in any advertisements since then. But he remains a divisive figure. He openly criticizes Putin and the Ukrainian conflict — hardly popular stances in Moscow.
Though his adventures in advertising may seem odd, they’re far less embarrassing than some Western politicians’ post-politics careers. Remember when former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole sold Viagra and Pepsi?