Pizza Hut, Louis Vuitton and “Gorbymania”: the cultural moments of Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev was remembered on Tuesday as one of the most defining figures of the 20th century – who was also something of a cultural icon after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who died at 91, appeared in Pizza Hut and Louis Vuitton advertisements and was greeted with “Gorbymania” among Western countries during his travels after he left office.

His significant and complicated legacy in Russia played out in a 1997 Pizza Hut ad that went international.

As the retired statesman sits down with his 10-year-old granddaughter to enjoy pizza from the restaurant chain in Russia, two men who recognize him at a nearby table begin to wonder if Gorbachev has had a positive or negative influence on the country.

“Because of him, we have economic confusion,” said an older man, to which a younger man replied, “Because of him, we have an opportunity.” The two move back and forth until an older woman at the table interrupts them.

“Thanks to him, we have a lot of things… like Pizza Hut,” said the woman, to whom customers began cheering Gorbachev around the restaurant.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has died aged 91.
AP Photo/David Longstreath, File

He also appeared in a print ad for a luxury fashion company about a decade later, where he sits in the back of a limo passing the remaining part of the Berlin Wall with an open Louis Vuitton bag next to him. him.

What made the ad more eye-catching was a fanciful out-of-the-bag post with a headline in Russia that states, “Litvinenko Murder: They Wanted to Drop Suspect for $7,000, New York Times Report Says of 2007.

The reference is to a former KGB spy, Alexander V. Litvinenko, who died a year earlier after being poisoned with a radioactive isotope. The Times reported that Litvinenko accused Russian strongman Vladimir Putin of plotting his murder while he was on his deathbed.

But Louis Vuitton and its advertising agency in 2007, Ogilvy & Mather, dismissed any higher importance beyond selling Vuitton bags.

“Our company has absolutely no intention of conveying any messages other than ‘personal travel’,” referring to the type of ad campaign in which Gorbachev appeared, Louis Vuitton’s chief marketing officer told The Times in an email at the time.

Gorbachev’s people also denied the Times any political insinuations.

Gorbachev starred in a Pizza Hut commercial after leaving
Pizza Hut International

The larger-than-life character landed Time’s Personality of the Decade for the 1980s, with him appearing on the magazine’s cover on January 1, 1990.

He was chosen because he was “the force behind the most defining events of the 80s and because what he has already done will almost certainly shape the future,” Time said at the time, according to the Associated Press.

The magazine also credited him as someone who “accelerated history, making possible the end of one of its most dishonorable episodes, the imposition of a cruel and unnatural order on hundreds of millions. of people”.

Gorbachev appeared in a print ad campaign for luxury retailer Louis Vuitton.
Gorbachev appeared in a print ad campaign for luxury retailer Louis Vuitton.
AP Photo/Annie Leibovitz, Louis Vuitton, HO

When he traveled to democracies outside of Russia, the reception was a frenzied joy, even if the people of his own country were not so thrilled with his past leadership.

“Yesterday at a bookstore in downtown Washington, Gorbymania ruled once again. The Gorbaswoons were back,” reported The Washington Post in a 1995 article.

“It was as if nothing had changed in the story. A man who might figuratively struggle to get a free cup of coffee in his own country was once again demonstrating his wild star power in America.

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