Thirty Years of World Politics (as Explained by Grainy Pizza Hut Ads We Found in the Attic)


If the first Cold War was best encapsulated by the most powerful men on the planet passive aggressively bitching in a fake kitchen in front of a hollering crowd, the "new" Cold War would be better understood through the prism of a fake Italian fast-food company's ad campaign from the mid-nineties. If you want to know about recent history, don't peruse the state archives, look at a hoarder's VHS collection.

As Cold War tensions wound down, the "pizza war" had only just dawned. American pizzeria company Pizza Hut hired the services of advertising firm BBDO to keep up with the likes of Domino's Pizza and Little Caesars. 

In 1996, following the collapsed USSR, the distinguished former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev lost his presidential election bid, Russians preferring their drunk uncle to a Nobel Prize laureate. Gorbachev's storied career was dead. To his horror, Gorbachev's 4,000-ruble-a-month pension was rendered worthless, about $2.28 a month due to inflation. Gorbachev's earlier reforms allowed for more freedom of press, private enterprise, and an opening up of the nation to outsiders. Broke and having opened the door for fast food chains to make inroads, the man who was once the face of communism found no recourse but to whore himself in the name of Pizza Hut in 1997: 

After the USSR fell, just about everything was privatized thanks to Gorbachev's perestroika reforms, and foreign companies poured in. It didn't help. Prices soared as the economy cratered. TV channels were sold off to oligarchs. Out of financial and political pressure, the free press frequently turned to zakazukha, the practice of writing blatant paid hit pieces to pay the bills or face a goon squad, setting the standard for modern Russian media -- If you ever wondered how RT could exist after "democratization," it's all about the rubles.

The 1997 Gorbachev ad captured the ongoing conflict in Russia painfully well. Filming for the commercial shut down the Red Square at a time no one could afford to eat there. In the ad, patrons who wanted freedom shouted down older diners who pined for familiarity, order, and stability, a strikingly poignant dissection of the generation gap. The "Hail Gorbachev" advert ultimately failed to win him love in Russia. Maybe Mother Russia was a Noid fan.

Meanwhile, in the US, BBDO chose a more familiar cash-strapped, past-his-prime mover and shaker to shill for The Hut's new stuffed crust, carb-laden behemoth. It's no wonder where he picked up his physique:

We realize this ad makes no sense to anyone under thirty, so let us explain. Donald Trump was hurting for cash amid a divorce settlement, dead casino, and defaulting airline. It was an easy payday for a man who had leveraged his fortune and personality into B-list celebrity star power. Before Twitter, TV ads were about the only way to sneak national press coverage -- well, that and tabloids. On the strength of the BBDO-designed ad campaign, he would later infuse his bank account with the money from a badly-needed reality show gig. 

TV proved you could sell anything with the correct application of cult of personality, a lesson Trump took to heart. Don't be shocked he changed political leanings like a windsock in a hurricane, though. Had you watched his old-school junk food ads, you'd have known that well before Trump shifted his views on abortion, he was a pizza flip flopper, too. 

We're not saying the real estate tycoon's ascent to world domination all comes down to Pizza Hut, but it certainly didn't hurt to raise his profile during a slump. However, Donnie's buddies at The Hut quickly moved on to slamming his arch-enemy/best friend. Even in 1999, it was apparent Hilary Clinton had her eyes on the White House, as evident from the rendition of Stars and Stripes Forever underscoring her satirical ad:

In China, the story was a little different. The Chinese Communist Party only officially decreed a free market economy in 1992. A nation that once suffered famines went from a builder of over-priced, branded crap, to a mass consumer of it. You know, progress. Still technically communist, the Chinese government feverishly courted foreign investment, seeing anything with a Western logo on it as a status symbol. Mindless consumerism was a fantastic way to ward off another popular uprising and more dissent. Pizza Hut arrived at the perfect time in 1990, and now dominates the Italian food market, adored by a nation who evidently thinks it is authentic Italian cuisine:

Thanks to BBDO, China loves Pizza Hut, not Domino's. Thanks to pizza ads, Trump rediscovered his mojo. Thanks to Gorbachev, the Russian people got acquainted with junk food and poverty. That rumor that Gorbachev dodged a food shortage by ordering from Pizza Hut back in the 1991 coup attempt undertaken by Boris Yeltsin? Probably fake news, but ominous all the same. Sadly, Pizza Hut nor democracy flourished in Russia. The promise of stuffed-crust pizza on every table and a free press remains largely unfulfilled.


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