My favourite ad of all time: John West’s ‘Nothing but Fish’ from 2000

The elegant but simple work by Leo Burnett at the turn of the century provides lessons for the industry on how to understand a brand’s core at a very deep level – writes freelance executive creative director James Daniels

Having spent almost 26 years in the business, being asked to comment on your favourite piece of advertising is no easy task.

In fact, I found it nearly impossible to choose just one. But I realised that in choosing a piece that I believed was so good, I had to ask myself which one meant something profound in my professional life.

Having started my advertising career at The Jupiter Drawing Room in South Africa, the most highly-awarded independent agency of its kind in South Africa, I was mentored by the craft-obsessed Graham Warsop.

During the seven years I was there, print was the agency’s main creative output. It was fascinating for me to learn how the trends in advertising changed the media landscape.

Watching as the classic Timberland newspaper ads, with their intriguing headlines and long copy, began to fade away – being replaced with the single image poster-style type of print work. I loved the challenge of being faced with this blank piece of paper and the constant battle of getting an idea across on a single page.

I am sure there were many more amazing pieces that came before this and even after it, including the Cannes Grand Prix winner for that year – Stella Artois’ ‘Reassuringly expensive’ campaign from Lowe Lintas In the United Kingdom – but there was just something about this piece of work that stuck with me.

And that work is John West’s ‘Nothing but fish’ by Leo Burnett back in the year 2000. I think the biggest part of why I have always loved this ad is that it was such a clever way of using the actual product in the print ad.


A simple tin of tuna. The idea was born from the product.  But it wasn’t just that. The beauty is in the simplicity of it all.

From the photography to the cropping of the image. The idea line says what it needs to without shouting at you. The subtle execution of the fishing line and the bobbing float, add charm, giving it a childlike playfulness.

It even has the brand name in the visual, so there is no need for that art directed logo lock-up, as we see so many times in the bottom right hand corner. But for me the real genius is in the way the actual mould of the Tuna tin lid becomes the ripples on the ocean.

It really did stay with me, as I have used this as a reference in many review sessions with creative teams. I see myself scribbling it on a piece of paper, getting all excited like I was when I first saw it. It is so easy to draw and the creative get it straight away, even with my bad drawing skills.

I use it to explain the importance of understanding the brand and the product they are selling. My message is always ‘clear and simple’.

If it is a car you’re selling, drive it. A drink, then drink it. An airline, then fly in it. But please, don’t just sit at your desk and think you know everything about it.

This simple ad taught me that great ideas come from really looking deeply and experiencing the product. You need to turn it upside down, open it and if needs be break it apart so you can understand how it works.

You need to be like Robin Williams’ character (John Keating, an English teacher at Welton Academy) in the film ‘The Dead Poets Society’ and stand on that table. Change your perspective and look at the world, the objects and the people in it from a different angle.

You will be amazed at what you see.

Simplicity wins every time for Daniels

James Daniels is a freelance executive creative director based in Singapore 


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