“Bear”, advertising John West Red Salmon, was released on November 20, 2000, quickly becoming known as the most downloaded and most forwarded tv advert online. It’s a British ad promoting a Heinz product, John West canned salmon, for the British market.
The ad begins as a nature documentary, showing grizzly bears peacefully fishing in a river. Voiceover: “At the river mouth the bears catch only the tastiest most tender salmon, which is exactly what we at John West want.”
Dave the fisherman runs up to the bear and engages in kung fu fighting. The bear delivers a kick or two to the man’s crutch. Dave calls out, “Oh look – an eagle!” With a kick to the bear’s crutch he takes off with the fish.
The voiceover and super: “John West endure the worst to bring you the best.”
Click on the image below to play the video in YouTube (HD)
The John West bear ad was developed at Leo Burnett, London, by creative directors Mark Tutssel and Nick Bell, art director/copywriter Paul Silburn, and agency producer Charlie Gatsky.
Silburn had left Leo Burnett to work elsewhere but arranged to be borrowed back for the shooting of the film. He later moved to work with TBWA London and only this year joined Fallon as executive creative director. Silburn was aiming for a nature documentary feel with a twist. And it worked! Mark Tutssel is now Deputy Chief Creative Officer for Leo Burnett Worldwide. Nick Bell is now Executive Creative Director for JWT London.
The ‘Bear’ ad won several awards in 2001 and 2002, including best commercial of the year at the British Television Advertising Awards, winner of the Advertising Creative Circle Awards, a Gold Lion at Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, and Grand Prize for Television/Cinema at the London International Awards.
A Boards Review from December 2001 gives us some of the background…
“The spot was facilitated by the existence of an animatronic bear suit from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. A stunt man from Henson’s, who incidentally specializes in playing animals, wore the seven-foot-tall suit and operated the animatronic head. Choreography between the bear and the fisherman was perfected in London to minimize the time spent inside the extremely heavy and hot costume. Compositing was involved to achieve the final look of the commercial, though no real bears were used. In addition to playing the role of the lead bear, “Dave bear” (the fisherman was also named Dave) stood in for the other feeding grizzlies. “It’s all Dave in the bear suit,” remarks Silburn. Silburn believes the success of the spot was just a matter of getting the balance right. “It could have been totally absurd and slapstick. But it starts off realistic and then gently drifts, so you originally think ‘That guy must be mad,’ and then you realize you’ve been had.”
Where to see John West ‘Bear’ online
The John West Bear ad has been uploaded to YouTube over 200 times.
www.visit4info.com have the John West ad plus a quirky little follow-up ad where Dave the fisherman runs to his getaway moped, jumps on the back and escapes the pursuing bear. We’re told here that Neil Morrissey (the voice of Postman Pat) does the voice over.
Adland have the best quality version I’ve seen, in mpg format. They think it might the original file. Their angle is to compare the John West ad with three later TV adverts featuring fights with bears.