Khrushchev, Gorbachev and the Power of Pizza

Khrushchev was the first Soviet leader who tried to humanise the Soviet Union. This huge monolithic state that represented tyranny and state control had been created by Stalin and though Stalin himself brought Khrushchev into his inner circle, it was Khrushchev who later rejected the brutality of the Soviet State.

Khrushchev openly criticised the Stalin era and began a new, more open era of government. Alarm bells had begun to ring in the Kremlin though and by 1964 Khrushchev’s colleagues were not so happy with what he was doing. Brezhnev organised the removal of Khrushchev and soon had taken the top spot for himself.

Brezhnev remained in power till his old age and when he died in 1982 a group of old men successively took over, Andropov 1982-84, then Chernenko 1984-85 and then in 1985 came a younger man, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorbachev felt reforms were necessary and began two initiatives, Perestroika (restructuring) and Glasnost (Openness). He dealt with the issues of war in Afghanistan and the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl. His determination to bring in elected bodies such as the Congress of People’s Deputies and further democratisation of the Soviet Union seemed only to undermine his position. He once dismissed Boris Yeltsin from the Communist party but was forced to deal with him again when he was elected President of Russia.

In 1991 an attempted coup by Communist hard liners failed but this seemed to give the political impetus to Yeltsin. Yetsin banned the Communist party that had once rejected him and soon the Soviet Union collapsed underneath Gorbachev.  He gave a television address to announce that the Soviet Union would formally end at midnight on 31st December, 1991.

Image courtesy Wikipedia creative commons.

In retirement Gorbachev created the Gorbachev Foundation with the aims of publishing material on the history of Perestroika and of presenting his ideas and philosophy to the world. Ironically, although Gorbachev was revered outside of the Soviet Union, within the country his fellow citizens accused him of destroying the economy as well as the communist party.

No longer President, Gorbachev needed money to maintain his foundation and his family and so he undertook to begin lecture tours, charging large amounts of money.  He began to suffer the same fate as many of his fellow former soviet citizens, his pension, 4000 roubles per month, given him by the Russian Federation, was not index linked to inflation and by 1994 his pension cheque was worth very little.

The Foundation began to struggle and even the lecture fees were not enough to pay bills and staff wages. In order to stay in Russia Gorbachev needed money, much more money.

McDonald’s opened in Moscow in 1990 and in that same year Pizza Hut opened its Moscow doors. By 1997, Pizza Hut’s international arm was looking for new ways of reaching out to the public. It wanted a global campaign that would play in any country in the world.

What about a TV ad using Mikhail Gorbachev?

Pizza Hut’s advertising people approached Gorbachev but the negotiations took months. Partly, this represented a negotiating tactic: The longer the negotiations drew out, the higher Gorbachev’s talent fee would be. But it also represented real hesitation on Gorbachev’s part.

However it happened, the core idea of the ad remained stable throughout the long process of negotiating and filming it. It would not focus on Gorbachev but on an ordinary Russian family eating at Pizza Hut. It would be shot on location, featuring as many visual references to Russia as possible.

Gorbachev finally assented but with conditions. First, he would have final approval over the script. That was acceptable. Second, he would not eat pizza on film. That disappointed Pizza Hut.

Gorbachev held firm.

A compromise was suggested: A family member would appear in the spot instead. Gorbachev’s granddaughter Anastasia Virganskaya ended up eating the slice. Pizza Hut accepted.

The advertising concept exploited the shock value of having a former world leader appear. But the ad also played on the fact that Gorbachev was far more popular outside Russia than inside it.

Either way, the former leader of the Soviet Union would be advertising pizza. Gorbachev had lost his presidency and in a sense his country, after all the Soviet Union was gone, replaced by the Russian Federation. I wonder if Gorbachev ever thought for a moment about Nicholas II, another man forced to resign his country’s leadership. Perhaps, perhaps not.

Khrushchev ended his days living in a small dacha in Moscow constantly spied on by the KGB. He wrote his memoirs and they were smuggled out to the west although Khrushchev was forced to deny sending them to a western publisher. He died in 1971.

Gorbachev reportedly received a million dollars for the promotion. The badly needed funds enabled him to pay his staff and continue working for reform in Russia.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Writing, Marketing and the Incredible Truth about Google.

Once upon a time when I first started this web page, my whole focus was to promote my book, Floating in Space. Floating is a kitchen sink drama, something on the lines of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, although not quite as good, but set in 1977. Those were the days; no Internet and no mobile phones. There were only a handful of TV channels. Jimmy Carter was the US President, Jim Callaghan was the UK Prime Minister and a pint of bitter was only 25 pence.

 I had taken a number of essays based vaguely on my early life, knitted them together, added something of a storyline and finally, after lots of re-writing and editing, realised a lifetime’s ambition of creating a book and becoming a writer. It’s exciting to produce something, some small piece of work which people actually read, although to be completely honest, pretty much everything I write is for me, for my own personal pleasure and even if nobody ever read anything I wrote, the actual writing itself still gives me a lot of pleasure. Having said that, every time I sell a paperback or a Kindle, every time someone adds a ‘like’ to one of my posts it does make me feel really good.

Back in the old days like 1977, when everything was, you know, black and white and digital publishing was unheard of, an author would have to submit his manuscript to a publisher and nine times out of ten would be flatly rejected. Publishers are experts on literature, or so I suppose but even the best of them have rejected books like the Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, or the Harry Potter books for instance. Maybe they are not such geniuses as we thought.

Either way, even Frederick Forsyth would be taken aback a little I think, if he had to write a weekly blog, plan posts for Facebook and Twitter and make short videos for his YouTube page. Things just aren’t what they used to be!

Not long ago I picked up an e-mail from the people at Google and they offered me a substantial amount of credit to start using Google ads again. I have to admit, I’d not advertised on Google for a long time but creating an ad these days isn’t as easy as it sounds. One of the important aspects is to know your audience. Your audience? Well, I’m not sure I do know my audience. I’m guessing, and this is purely guesswork, that people like me would like the things I write so I suppose we’re looking at middle aged book readers, interested in a humorous take on life, which is what Floating really is.

For the past three years I have concentrated my social media promotions on Twitter. OK, I have a Facebook writer page and a Pinterest account and a Google+ account but it’s Twitter where I have really pushed myself. So much so that I am the proud possessor of over 6,000 followers. Sounds good doesn’t it? If every one of those 6,000 people were fans of my blog and each and every one bought a copy of Floating in Space I’d be quids in. The fact is, out of those 6,000, I’d say only a handful are genuine fans. The rest want to be friends with me for one reason -because I have 6,000 followers and every time someone Tweets one of my Tweets I am honour bound by the unwritten Twitter users code to Tweet them back, Tweet them to my 6,000+ followers.

Anyway, the reason I mention Twitter is that over on the Twitter analytics tab there are some really interesting tools that tell you all sorts of statistical stuff about your Twitter account but one tool in particular will give you the lowdown on your audience, your Twitter audience that is. So, a quick click over to Twitter and I see something like this;

That’s my audience sorted so back to Google Ads to see if I can add those details provided by Twitter and you get these drop down boxes that seem to go on forever in the search to identify your audience: What is their location? Are they parents, homeowners, car owners and so on and so on? Even on the parenting box you can choose one or two or more children.

Then you look at language spoken, income bracket and a multitude of other choices with which you can target your potential customer. Then you are looking at what sort of results are you after? Sales leads, purchases, web site clicks, video clicks, post likes?

This might be the point at which you, the reader, might be thinking that me, the author, is going to answer those questions. You might be thinking this is one of those how to do it posts with step by step instructions to get more book purchases and more readers. Now, or pretty soon, you might think, Steve is going to reveal all, some trick to Google Ads. You might even be thinking ‘wow, Steve is really clued in to all this technical marketing stuff!’

No, not gonna happen, it’s more the other way around: I’m sitting here waiting for someone to tell me what to do!

Just while I’m on the subject of Google it is pretty amazing how much Google is involved in your life, or can be, if you let it. If you search for something on the Internet, you probably use Google. If you upload videos to YouTube, that is part of Google.

A while ago I upgraded from my old banger mobile phone to a top notch internet savvy smartphone. I added Google onto my phone, logged in and found that straight away, Google was saving all my contacts on to my Google profile. Helpful, in fact very helpful because when I changed phones I no longer had to save my contacts to my SIM card. I could just log in to Google again on my new phone and there they were, all my contacts just waiting.

Here’s another thing, your Google timeline. I don’t know if you ever look at it or even know what it is but when you get a chance, check it out because what you will find is this, all your movements in great detail.

On the day I left for my holidays in France for instance, we left home at 8:57am, drove 307 miles in 5 hours and 21 mins. Travelled on Eurotunnel then drove 2 hours and 31 minutes through France to our hotel which was 4 minutes and 150 yards away from a restaurant on the Rue du Mont Perreux. And there was me, annoyed at myself for not jotting the car mileage down before we left home.

A while ago I was in Manchester with my brother and Google showed all our movements, what pubs we were in, how far we had walked to each pub, and how much time we had spent in each establishment. The only thing it didn’t record was what we drank, but now I think about it, in Wetherspoons I used the Wetherspoon app to order drinks so those details will be there, recorded for posterity in my phone memory somewhere.

Last weekend Liz and I went into Lytham for the Christmas lights switch on and when I looked, Google had once again faithfully recorded our movements. There were the times we had walked to the bus stop; the time and distance we had travelled on the bus (16 mins and 4.2 miles.) However, there was one missing element. After watching the festivities in Lytham we went to the Red Fort restaurant and now I think of it, I was unable to ‘check in’ there because I had no signal.

When I checked Google later it asked me if the Ego restaurant, one of my many regular watering holes and a mere stone’s throw from the Red Fort, was a ‘missing place’ Sorry Google, this time we fancied a curry at the Red Fort.

One more thing about Google. The whole genre of detective fiction will have to be changed. I watching a murder documentary the other day on TV and the killer’s movements were traced meticulously by Police investigators. A lot of their work involved tracking down CCTV cameras, trawling through recorded footage and establishing the timeline of the suspect. Then there was more legwork, interviewing people and taking witness statements. Such a pity the murderer didn’t have Google on his phone as his movements would have been there, minute by minute.

Good thing they didn’t have the Internet in Columbo’s day. Google would have ruined many an episode!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.