The Real Reason Mikhail Gorbachev Wound Up In A Full-Page Ad For Apple

On the global stage, Mikhail Gorbachev was known as the Soviet president with the signature birthmark on his head who worked with President Ronald Reagan to reduce the nuclear arsenals of their two countries. Gorbachev's outgoing and charismatic personality made for a new type of leader in the USSR, allowing him to usher in two key components of his presidency — glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) — until the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991. "I began these reforms and my guiding stars were freedom and democracy, without bloodshed. So the people would cease to be a herd led by a shepherd. They would become citizens," he later said, according to UPI.

Although Gorbachev had been ousted from politics when Boris Yeltsin came to power in 1991, the new political and economic order Gorbachev ushered in made him the perfect pitch man, as far as marketing executives were concerned. A newly-opened economy with a massive population, plus a highly charismatic and recognizable public figure, was the perfect equation for capitalistic success. But Gorbachev was resistant, according to The New York Times. He knew his popularity in Russia was split, and many would see his embracing Western commercials so soon after the fall of the Soviet Union as distasteful, if not offensive. "Here in Russia, it will be understood one way," Gorbachev told The New York Times. "In other places, it is nothing unusual. I see my colleagues, former presidents, and your presidents, too, taking part in campaigns."

Gorbachev stars in an Apple ad

After a few years, Gorbachev finally relented. In 1994, he appeared in a full-page ad for Apple in German publications. The ad didn't display the charming demeanor he's known for. It showed his serious side, standing with a business suit on with an Apple Power McIntosh computer directly behind him. Per UPI, the copy read: "A man can either be part of the solution or part of the problem. I have chosen the former." Gorbachev didn't do it for a paycheck. Instead, the former Soviet president did the ad in exchange for computers in the Moscow office of Green Cross International, a struggling environmental organization he had just founded. "He did it to ease the financial burden on Green Cross International," Vladimir Poliakov, a spokesman for the organization, told UPI at the time.

Apple installed the computers at the same time advertising giant BBDO shot the ad, making the deal complete. But Gorbachev did manage to negotiate one additional perk. The logo of Green Cross International would appear on the computer screen in the ad, according to UPI. When the advertisement appeared in publications like Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and in the magazine Stern, it was well-received among Germans because Gorbachev was highly popular in the country since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Still, for all the international admiration, Gorbachev's spokesperson insisted appearing in ads pushing products from around the globe was a one-time thing for the sake of helping the environment.

Okay, I'll do a Pizza Hut commercial, too

Although Gorbachev swore off advertising for his future, he found himself in need of funds for The Gorbachev Foundation. According to Independent, Gorbachev complained that then-president Boris Yeltsin had diminished the foundation's office space and torpedoed his fundraising efforts. The only way he saw around this problem was to agree to do a television commercial for Pizza Hut in 1997. "If you look at the foundations in Germany or France, the state finances them, they find sponsors," Gorbachev told The New York Times. "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."

On August 30, 2022, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev died following a long illness, according to CNN. Green Cross International, the organization which benefited from Gorbachev's Apple ad, said in a statement on its website: "Our founder Mikhail Gorbachev was, at his core, a deep believer that openness and collaboration were the keys to uniting humanity." They added: "He didn't see borders or boundaries; he saw the potential for a safer future and a kinder world. He asked that we use our passion and our voices to preserve the beauty and opportunities we have been given, and as an organization we will continue to respect his legacy."