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Salmon ad has industry laughing

Ad aimed at British finding an audience among Web viewers

Posted: Thursday, December 21, 2000

ANCHORAGE -- Imagine Jackie Chan vs. the grizzly bear, facing off on a gravel bar. They punch, they twirl and kick, they scream bloody murder, fighting over a fresh red salmon.

Although filmed in the Scottish highlands and aimed at a British audience, this canned-salmon commercial has sparked conversation and laughter across Alaska and the salmon industry. It's not being broadcast here, but that hardly matters, as fast as it is flying by e-mail.

"I've gotten it probably from 15 or 20 sources," said Sue Aspelund, executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United. "People love it."

The ad for John West Foods, a 140-year-old canned food company based in Liverpool, is airing in parts of the United Kingdom until Christmas. It's reaching an even greater audience by e-mail. On the Web site adcritic.com, it's ranked No. 1 in the best commercial category, outscoring President Clinton's play on his final days in the White House.

Barbara Belknap, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which promotes Alaska salmon and seafood, said she's heard from fishermen who want ASMI to do something similar. She's also heard from senators and commissioners.

"We don't do television ads because they are so expensive," Belknap said.

ASMI doesn't get state money to promote Alaska seafood, and the organization couldn't afford the production cost. The 30-second John West commercial cost 1.2 million pounds or $1.8 million, reported The Guardian newspaper.

The United Kingdom is the largest importer of Alaska canned salmon, Belknap said. John West has a 30 percent share of that canned fish market and uses salmon from Russia, Alaska and Canada, according to The Guardian.

"They are traditional canned salmon eaters," Belknap said of the U.K. citizens. "It's on their grocery list."

ASMI has a representative in the United Kingdom working to get the word "Alaska" on canned salmon labels, she said.

"It's great for Alaska and great for the seafood industry," said Chuck Bundrant, president of Trident Seafoods, a company that catches and cans Alaska salmon.

"I think it is excellent. I just wish it was my commercial," Bundrant said.

Bundrant said he's received about a dozen e-mails with the commercial attached.

"It's been bogging down my e-mail," he said, from his Seattle office.

"I got on my own people and asked them, 'Why didn't you think of this?' " he said.

The commercial opens with a bear swatting a red salmon out of the stream and onto the river bank. The bear, actually someone wearing a Jim Henson-style bear costume equipped with a computerized face, is charged by a screaming fisherman dressed in orange rain pants.

That's when the fun starts. The bear uses karate chops and displays footwork worthy of Muhammad Ali. The fisherman gets in close for some body punches. But the bear is clearly getting the upper hand until the fisherman tries a trick:

"Look, an eagle," he says, pointing to the sky over the bear's shoulder.

The bear looks up, the fisherman kicks it in the groin and walks away triumphantly with the salmon.

The theme: "John West endures the worst to bring you the best."

Aspelund, of Cordova, said it couldn't come at a better time for Copper River fishermen who have worked 20 years or more to develop brand-name appeal for wild Alaska salmon.

"We see this as an absolute dynamite promotion for salmon," she said.



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