A Christmas advert produced by local retailers and businesses in Ballymena has become an internet sensation and is providing a welcome boost for the town.
The advert tells the story of a Christmas bear who gets lost by his courier and has to struggle round the shops and cafes of Ballymena to be re-united with the little girl for whom he was intended.
The emotional tale will soften even the toughest of characters, including Ballymena’s most famous son, hardman actor Liam Neeson.
The advert has received great praise from online commentators and it has even been suggested that it could rival retail giants John Lewis and Marks and Spencer for consumer reach.
It is a fantastic achievement for the producers, especially given they had just a shoestring budget.
Many local business owners and members of the public from Ballymena gave up their time and resources to help make the ad.
Stephen Reid, from Ballymena-based Grafters Designs, which shot and produced the advert, said: “I can’t quite believe how many hits we have had. We have been incredibly lucky. 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 Ballymena Bear video has already surpassed that number of YouTube views, and the figures is expected to continue to rise as the re-tweets and likes spread across the web.
It is hoped the ad will encourage shoppers to spend their Christmas money in Ballymena to help boost the struggling local economy.
The town has suffered some setbacks in recent years with two local factories ending their operations there.
Reid added: “Last year I was in the process of losing my job. This is only the second project of mine to have seen the light of day.
“A lot of people gave up their time for free, gave us materials for free or just helped out for free. 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.”
Grace Carmichael is a project officer at the Ballymena Business Improvement District, a body set up by local retailers to help them cope with the impact of the recession.
She 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.”
Take a look at the Ballymena Bear video for yourself below.