John West proved that sustainability can be a force for growth

  • John West wanted to regain their brand leader position  
  • They decided to put sustainability at the heart of their advertising and move away from price led marketing
  • This brave strategy delivered an ROI of 9:1


Ever since the TV campaign in 2000 when a fisherman kicked a bear to get to the best tuna, John West has been a much loved brand. However, in 2011, John West were locked into a low-price, high-volume marketing model, battling it out with Princes and own label brands. It seemed as though people didn’t care about the quality of the fish in the can and were only concerned with the price. As a result, volume sales were down and margins were being squeezed.   

On top of this, John West had an image problem. In the tuna league table for sustainability, Greenpeace ranked John West 7th and activists began attacking the brand. 

John West needed to inform consumers about the sustainability of their brand, tapping into the increasing interest that consumers were showing for where their food comes from.  

The challenge was to give consumers something else to focus on other than price and, as a result, differentiate themselves from their competitors and drive John West back up to brand leader status. 

The Solution

John West decided that they needed to be brave and break the model.  Working with their agency Cheethambell JWT, they came up with the idea to focus on the stories behind the food. Whilst other brands continued to talk about taste and price, John West talked about responsible sourcing and told the story behind each can.

In a world first, they created Can Tracker, in which people could type their can code into the John West website and discover exactly where the fish was caught – not just which ocean but the actual trawler that made the catch. 

It was important to be able to tell everyone about this initiative and also to be big and bold in backing sustainability. They turned to TV in order to achieve this. They wanted people to see that John West were putting sustainability at the heart of their strategy and taking the matter very seriously indeed. The message needed to be at the centre of the campaign and to come across as core to what John West were doing.  It is TV’s ability to tell stories that made it the perfect communications vehicle. The TV ads not only informed viewers about how they could trace their cans, they were also humourous, which made them more enjoyable and memorable. 

John West bought 537 ABC1 housepersons ratings in October and November 2011 on a wide selection of appropriate channels. 

The TV campaign was supported by radio and press advertising. In addition, a rich web experience was created to give the stories behind the fish additional depth. The TV and radio campaign had a strong call to action: “Discover the Story Behind Every Can”. Once people arrived at the website to trace the origin of their cans, they were also told about the kind of tuna they were eating and what John West are doing to help the sustainability of that species.  


The activity achieved stunning results and turned the brand around. Not only that, it future-proofed the John West brand.

  • The econometrics model demonstrated over £17m increase in sales which can be attributed to the campaign activity 
  • The revenue return on investment was 9:1 
  • John West saw its profit return to growth for the first time in 4 years 
  • John West regained the no. 1 value market share position back from Princes
  • More people perceived that John West cares about sustainability – an increase of 9 percentage points (source: H & P Tracking)
  • The ad generated great talkability with 1 in 5 people who saw it discussing it with family or friends (H & P Tracking)
  • The ad was shortlisted for the 2012 Cannes Lion Film award and won three 2012 Roses awards
  • The ad was showcased in GFK Ropers ‘New Global Brand Manifesto’ as a great example of a brand understanding its customers

John West went from being a brand tarred by issues of sustainability to a brand famous for its openness and honesty.


Sector: Food

Brand: John West

Campaign objectives: To focus on sustainability and to regain brand leader position

Target Audience:  ABC1 housepersons

Budget: approx. £1.5m TV spend

Campaign Dates: The campaign ran from 10th October to 21st November 2011

TV Usage: 30” spots

Creative Agency: CheethamBell JWT

Media Agency:  Carat Manchester

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