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Q&A with Asanka De Silva, marketing controller for John West about new brand direction

Asanka De Silva, marketing controller for John West, discusses the new campaign for the 154 year-old brand and the new direction he is taking it in.

We started off at the end of last year where we went out to consumers and asked all of the questions that you can actually ask and trying to figure out what was actually happening in the market and where our brand fits in that space. From that we identified that the brand had very strong preference among consumers which we could strengthen further from promotional and relational engagement. We also looked at ways we can improve and increase our emotional engagement and part of that was trying to understand what other core motivating reasons there were for purchase.

What came out of that was traceability is a significant motivation for consumers and then we took the next step of looking at internal work that we do. We’ve had best in class traceability at John West for more than ten years, but we’ve not communicated that to consumers. Now traceability is about safety and you have to carry a control over your entire supply chain by making sure that what the consumers get is of the right quality. We’ve brought that into the promotional activity of our fish. That was the starting point of the brief. One of the other key elements is that, what we have found over the last 10 years is that we need to have a large product focus, so it is about trying to have a brand led campaign to strengthen the brand. This forms the basis of the thinking, alongside the world class traceability status and we now wanted to look at how we can turn those to our advantage but in a way that is truly engaging for consumers.

Where did the idea come from to tell the tale behind each tin of tuna?

Humour has always been a big part of the John West brand and we were keen to retain that sense of humour. When JWT came up with the comb-over advert, you’ll have to ask the guy who came up with it what he was thinking because I have no idea.

We were trying to find a way that would allow us to retain a sense of humour while keeping true to the brand’s core messaging. We’ve struck a nice balance between a serious message which is balanced off with a bit of fun and humour, which helps with consumer engagement.

What can we expect to see from the campaign as it develops?

We have launched the campaign with two TV commercials which are on air now and we are going to come up with a third commercial which is will roll out next year. We will run this to start with and then we will maybe take one of these two, and run into next year with another new commercial. The way I see it is that this will form the basis of telling out story to consumers. On the other hand we’re absolutely following this up by adding more of our range into the online tracker, regarding the tuna you can see the new Can Tracker which allows consumers to track tuna in a can. We wanted to turn this into all the other products we have over the next 18 months. We do have the information internally; the challenge is to place that information online. We’re thinking that the next step will include Mackerel over the next six-to-nine months and then we’ll start working through the other seafood as we go along.

That sounds as though there is a lot of activity still to be implemented.

This is part of the overall vision that we set out earlier this year, which is to become the number one seafood brand in the UK. We’ve always focused on canned fish but it’s important we start thinking as a fish brand, because we can do as a fish brand is far more than what we can do as a canned fish brand.

There’s almost been a total overhaul of the brand over the last year. Why was this decided?

The reason we decided upon this, we have a very competitive market and it’s in our interest to differentiate from our competitors and this is the way that we will be able to realise the true value of the market, not just for ourselves, because the brands are all different from one another and they all have a role to play. We looked to connect the John West brand back to our core fishing expertise, which is all about fish and the expertise we have had. That’s where we’re taking the brand and you can see that through the packaging with the introduction of the new green. We’ve modernised the brand, which is a 154 year old brand, so we need to modernise and refresh things. That was all involved in why we decided to do this.

What happened with the James Martin deal to act as an ambassador for the brand that was announced last year?

The James Martin deal was part of our previous strategy and we need to maintain those links. Now, we haven’t really worked out all the plans around those areas but the way I see it is that once we get through this traceability push this year and the early part of next year, that we re-engage with that area of the market. [James Martin’s activity with John West was part of a 12-month PR programme that has now come to an end.]

What other marketing platforms will you use to support the TV campaign?

This is heavily led by TV, digital and PR and we are looking at the next phase next year, which will again look at Press, TV, digital and PR again and we didn’t run with press this year simply because we wanted the TV adverts to be established first. [There has been some selected trade press advertising run as part of this phase of the campaign however.] We will run a press campaign early next year to build on the material.

Ultimately what is the target for the campaign?

I want to established John West’s true brand credentials in the area of traceability and we have best in class. We also want to communicate our fishing expertise and our fishing heritage. At the end of the year if I see all my brand activity around our expertise in fishing improve then that will be an achievement.

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