December 3, 1997 in Nation/World

Ex-Communist Leader Hawks Pizza Gorbachev Gets Close To $1 Million For Ad

Alessandra Stanley New York Times
 

The last leader of the Soviet Union was unable to prevent the collapse of communism. So now he conspicuously has taken his place on the winning side.

Mikhail Gorbachev, 66, has shot a commercial endorsement for Pizza Hut.

Gorbachev agreed to sit down at a table with his granddaughter in the Moscow outlet of Pizza Hut and pay tribute to capitalism and its greasiest offshoot: American fast food.

Gorbachev said he is not exactly sure how much he is being paid, but some reports indicate his fee is close to $1 million.

Explaining that he badly needed the money to finance his foundation, a research institute that bears his name, Gorbachev said in an interview Tuesday that he has declined many other offers to endorse products but made an exception for Pizza Hut.

“I thought that it is a people’s matter - food,” he said. “If my name works for the benefit of consumers, to hell with it - I can risk it.”

The script is deferential; indeed, it could be viewed as Gorbachev’s ultimate fantasy.

He arrives by limousine at a Pizza Hut, and some patrons notice him. An older man grumbles, “Because of him, we have economic confusion.” A younger man disagrees, saying, “Because of him, we have opportunity.”

Patrons continue to argue until an older woman pipes up, “Because of him, we have things like Pizza Hut.”

The patrons rise and give a standing ovation to their former leader, holding pizza slices aloft in tribute.

Gorbachev responds with a dignified smile. He does not actually eat a slice of pizza but sips coffee as he watches his granddaughter dig in.

Though the ad was shot in Moscow last Thursday, there are no plans to broadcast it in Russia.

Esteemed in the West as the statesman who ended the Cold War, Gorbachev is extremely unpopular in Russia, where he is blamed for allowing the Soviet Union to fall apart and for not having pushed economic reforms far enough. When he ran for the presidency last year - his first campaign for public office - he won less than 1 percent of the vote.

To put it another way, Gorbachev’s endorsement of Pizza Hut could well cause sales in Moscow to drop dramatically.

“Here in Russia, it will be understood one way,” Gorbachev said of the advertisement, which has been ridiculed in the Russian press. “In other places, it is nothing unusual. I see my colleagues, former presidents and your presidents, too, taking part in campaigns.”

However, Gorbachev may be breaking ground for statesmen. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl never have made commercials. Even in the United States, where celebrity endorsements are part of the cultural fabric, no former president has taken quite so bold a step.

In 1996, George Bush made an unpaid commercial for the Houston Astros baseball team as a favor to its owner, Drayton McLane. Bush’s vice president, Dan Quayle, did a commercial in 1994 for Frito-Lay potato chips and was paid $50,000.

Gerald Ford serves on many corporate boards and receives substantial compensation but has not made product endorsements.

Mostly, those kinds of ads have been picked up by presidential or vice presidential also-rans - from Bob Dole, who endorsed Dunkin’ Donuts, to Geraldine Ferraro, who made an advertisement in 1984 for Diet Pepsi.

Gorbachev also has made an ad for Apple computers in Germany, but he said that by starring in the Pizza Hut commercial, he was taking a step he previously had considered “unsuitable” for someone of his standing.

He complained that Russian President Boris Yeltsin has stripped him of much of the office space he was allotted after he resigned from office on Dec. 25, 1991, and deliberately has thwarted his fund-raising efforts.

“I don’t get support from the state,” he said. “If you look at the foundations in Germany or France, the state finances them; they find sponsors. Here, we don’t have any of that. Sponsors can be found. There were some, but on the next day after meeting with me, they were summoned to the presidential headquarters to fix their brains.”

Executives at Pizza Hut seemed dismayed that Gorbachev had spoken about his upcoming cameo so soon and would not disclose when the ad is expected to run.

But one company executive explained Pizza Hut’s interest in attaching Gorbachev’s name to its pizza this way: “We are constantly striving to take our advertising to a new edge. And we have a new commercial that the whole world will want to watch.”

The commercial was created by the BBDO New York advertising agency, which is known for using celebrities - particularly politicians - in splashy, big-budget spots.

Among the commercials made by BBDO are a 1996 spot for Visa with Dole and a 1995 Doritos commercial with former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and former Texas Gov. Ann Richards.

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TARGET NATION

The commercial won’t be shown in Russia. Because of Gorbachev’s unpopularity there, his endorsement of Pizza Hut could well cause sales in Moscow to drop dramatically.

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