Tuesday 20 August 2019

Ballymena Bear is festive internet sensation

Ballymena Bear has become an unlikely internet hit (Ballymena Business Improvement District/PA)
Ballymena Bear has become an unlikely internet hit (Ballymena Business Improvement District/PA)

A Christmas advert for a struggling Northern Ireland market town has become an unlikely internet hit.

Almost 23,000 people have viewed the ad for Ballymena in Co Antrim since it went live three days ago.

Made on a shoestring budget, the £5,000 festive tear-jerker features a handmade linen teddy bear which falls from a parcel during delivery.

The "Ballymena Bear's" four-minute quest to be reunited with the child for whom he was made has become a social media sensation.

Fans include Northern Irish television presenter Eamonn Holmes who said on Twitter: "I now draw your attention to #ballymenabear ..so cute. #NorthernIreland."

Ballymena has a population of around 30,000 and is famous for actor Liam Neeson, firebrand politician Ian Paisley and Wrightbus, the firm behind London's red buses.

The advert was commissioned by the Ballymena Business Improvement District (BID), a body set up by local retailers to help them cope with the impact of the recession. And according to some, the low cost production rivals the multi-million campaigns by high-end stores such as John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser.

Catherine Seeley ‏said: " Watch out #JohnLewis! This #BallymenaBear is giving you a run for your money!"

It has been viewed in countries including Australia, Iraq and Russia.

Creative Consultant Stephen Reid, 29, from Ballymena-based Grafters Designs, which shot and produced the advert, said the response had been unbelievable.

He said: "I can't quite believe how many hits we have had. We have been incredibly lucky - we are at almost 23,000 in three days.

"Shrewsbury, which is a much bigger town, did something similar and in two years they have had about 18,000 views. That was what we were aiming for, so we are delighted at the success."

The short film tells the story of a little brown bear which falls out of a box while being couriered. The bear has to scour the shops and cafes of Ballymena to track down the little girl for whom he was made.

Eventually, the bear, which was hand stitched by Michelle Lowry, owner of the Penny & Rose gift shop, and made from locally produced Baird McNutt linen, is reunited just in time for the Christmas lights switch-on.

Mr Reid said it was only his second major advertising project.

"Last year I was in the process of losing my job." he added. "This is only the second project of mine to have seen the light of day."

A lot of work also went into ensuring the production stayed within the tight budget.

Mr Reid said: "The van was lent to us by a friend.

"I had to have a cameo role as we couldn't find a driver and my mum made the elf sleeves from scrap material.

"A lot of people gave up their time for free, gave us materials for free or just helped out for free."

Ballymena as been rocked by a series of factory closures.

JTI Gallagher announced it was shutting its tobacco plant last year and, more recently, Michelin revealed plans to move its tyre production to Scotland.

Grace Carmichael, Ballymena BID project officer, said: " This is the first year we have run a co-ordinated marketing campaign which will includes the internet film, a shorter TV ad, which starts today and billboards and social media campaign.

"It has been great. The response has just been amazing. We are hoping it translates into more footfall for the town. We are trying to encourage people not to forget about Ballymena and to see that there are great things here."

And, it looks like the heart-warming ad is already working.

Jonathon Fulton wrote: "This year i have decided to buy all my Christmas presents in Ballymena #shoplocal #ballymenabear."

PA Media

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