It's been a great year for Ian Meadows, the business director of
European seafood at Heinz. His John West brand's 'bear' spot through Leo
Burnett was the big winner at the recent Creative Circle awards and at
the 2001 British Television Advertising Awards. They are accolades that
will go nicely with Campaign's Advertiser of the Year award picked up by
Heinz in January. Everything seems to be coming good after years in the
Meadows should be turning cartwheels. But this keen gambler is too busy
ruing the cancellation of another competition in which he has a personal
interest - the Cheltenham horse-racing festival.
'I've shares in a horse, it's the third I've been involved in,' he
explains. 'The other two have both been winners. I like to win. But I
try to keep the risk-taking in my personal life rather than in business.
The risk on 'bear' was a calculated one, it's not like backing a 50-1
Meadows has worked his way up within Heinz from the summer of 1989 when
he started as a financial controller of the operations division. In
December 1995 he took on the job of business centre manager for Heinz
canned goods until 1997, when he became the director of UK seafood and
managing director of the newly acquired John West.
The tinned fish market is not an exciting one. It is what is termed as
'commoditised' - people pay little attention to brand and just pick the
nearest one to hand. It's difficult to establish consumer loyalty. All
the more reason for producing good creative work. As it is though,
Burnett's work was to be the first advertising for Heinz's salmon
products in a decade.
'It had to be exciting and memorable,' Meadows admits. 'People still
remember the 'fish John West reject' campaign in the 70s. We knew that
we had latent knowledge of the quality of the product but in today's
environment it isn't enough to have a good message, it's how you deliver
Interestingly, the amount of salmon available affects the type of
advertising that John West requires. Most of the fish are caught between
July and August, therefore the company has no idea how much it has to
sell until September - and as the majority of the stock is sold over
Christmas, it means deadlines are tight.
'If there's more product you need to focus heavily on usage to drive the
product through. Less product, then you want to put the quality message
across. Maximise your position as a premium brand,' Meadows says.
'This makes it very difficult for agencies to come up with executions.
We worked on a couple of messages. One for quality, another for
quantity.' The past three years have seen very low salmon yields so
Meadows ran with the quality ads.
Still, he was concerned about whether the new approach could be pulled
off correctly. 'It had a lot of risk with it. We were not concerned with
the concept but with the execution. We were worried it would be a
slapstick bear,' he offers, deadly serious. A quality product requires a
quality bear and so Meadows had a costume specially designed by the
creators of The Muppets in Atlanta, complete with radio-controlled
Meadows says that since Burnett had produced excellent campaigns for him
before, trusting the agency was not an issue. Kate Howe, Burnett's
deputy managing director, doesn't think it is as simple as that.
'Ian is focused on results,' she says. 'He has to justify any investment
in marketing activity. He appreciates good creative and has an intimate
understanding about what is right and what is wrong for his brand. We
produced the concept right on brief and strategy. Ian will take risks,
but only considered ones.'
Burnett took over the account three years ago after Heinz bought John
West from Unilever in the summer of 1997. The task was put up for pitch
and the agency won the account in December that year against Bates
'Our contribution really has been to have faith in Burnett,' Meadows
continues. 'And to be brave enough to take the risk.'
One possible missed trick, however, has been the absence of a viral
marketing campaign. Despite this, the ad has been bouncing around
cyberspace for some weeks now and became the first UK spot to get to
number one on the US website AdCritic.com. 'One of the greatest benefits
we've had with this ad is that it has struck a chord with a wider
consumer base,' Meadows says.
Whatever he decides to do, Meadows is not in it for the critical
He's out there to win the canned fish war. 'We do ads to sell product,
not win awards,' he concludes. 'We intend to continue in the same vein.
Watch this space.'