World’s best ads ever #60: John West becomes viral trailblazer with tale of man v bear
We asked our readers to vote for their favorite commercials of all time. Top creatives from the World Creative Rankings and The Drum’s Judges’ Club then ranked the ads. Now, we bring you the definitive 100 best TV and video ads of all time.
In today’s era of big brands falling over themselves to chase clicks on TikTok and Twitter, it feels quaint to recall that one of the first major viral video advertising success stories came courtesy of a UK company founded in 1857 and hitherto well-known only among those fond of tinned tuna.
John West, however, had long had a knack for being an advertising pioneer. In the 1960s, the firm got in early on the TV advertising boom with catchy jingles and even catchier lines like: ’It’s the fish that John West rejects that makes John West the best’. And when a new millennium dawned, the humble can company once again demonstrated its marketing sagacity with a new kind of ad that stayed true to its time-honored roots but presented them in a manner never quite seen before.
Created by Leo Burnett, ’Bear’ lures you in to thinking you’re watching a cuddly Attenborough-esque nature documentary about grizzlies dipping for salmon before revealing that you’re really here to witness a UFC-style slugfest between bear and man. That man in this case being John West’s all-too-intrepid fisherman who will let no obstacle stand in his way in the hunt for the best produce.
The pay off-line – ’John West endure the worst to bring you the best’ – provides a neat throwback to the brand’s earliest efforts in TV advertising, even if the backdrop of the beleaguered bear clutching its unmentionables after a well-judged wallop from the fisherman couldn’t be further away from the company’s advertising of yore. Tame by today’s standards, the ad’s surrealism stood out a mile in 2000, a whole five years before even YouTube had launched in beta.
By the middle of that decade, it was estimated that ’Bear’ had already been watched more than 300m times and the company still fields calls about it to this day. For those querying whether any animals were harmed in the making of the production, we can save you the call and say no, they were not – though we can’t be sure the same can be said for the stuntman in the Jim Henson Company suit.