The humble teddy bear has taken Northern Ireland by storm this week following the launch of a Christmas advert for the shopping town of Ballymena. Ballymena born and bred John Megaughin from Northern Ireland PR agency Clearbox Communications takes a look at the campaign, how the public have embraced it and what it means for both communications and the town itself.
Since the Coca-Cola lorry started telling us that 'holidays are coming', Christmas marketing campaigns have increasingly signalled the start of the festive season.
While the Coke lorry is still the first proper sight of Christmas for some, retailers and department stores have overtaken the Christmas chat in the last few years with some sterling efforts getting people talking.
One thing I bank on every year is that the incoming marketing activity around Christmas will be bigger and better than last year - that's a given. One thing I didn't expect, however, is that one of the clear winners in the Christmas marketing war would come from my hometown.
For those of you not familiar with Ballymena, let me quickly set the scene. A large agricultural town home to Liam Neeson and the company that makes big red London buses, it's been hit badly by the recession and has seen three major businesses close in the last two years, accounting for the loss of almost 2,000 jobs.
The town would be forgiven for cursing its luck and shrugging its shoulders, but it chose to bounce back in a way this Christmas that's got everyone talking.
Now I'm not an emotional person, but this little bear got me. It's a beautifully shot video that captures the magic of Christmas. No gimmicks. No tricks. Just a Christmas tale of a bear that wants to be loved. And, let's face it, who doesn't want to be loved at Christmas?
The campaign has (rightly) captured the imagination of the press, shoppers and the digital world. It's been done in such a classy, subtle way that the viewer is being taken on a journey of what the town has to offer without really realising it. The town is presented as a magical place through the eyes of something most people can relate to at one point in their life - a teddy.
The thing I love the most about this campaign is its simplicity. There are no bells and whistles. It was created on a low budget and has grown organically to reach hundreds of thousands of people across Northern Ireland and no doubt beyond.
What the #BallymenaBear also reinforces is how building an emotional connection to a brand is as relevant as ever when it comes to communicating with target audiences. For all the celebrity-backed, special effects-laden Christmas marketing campaigns that I've seen this Christmas, nothing has grabbed my attention in the way that a lonely teddy bear has.
It's communications at its finest. Be it marketing, advertising or PR, there really isn't anything better than a campaign that gets everyone talking for all the right reasons.
I really hope it helps bring more people into Ballymena this Christmas but even if it doesn't, the campaign has positioned the town in a positive way after years of bad news, job losses and rising unemployment which is a great achievement in itself.
People of Ballymena, Grafters Design studio and everyone involved in the making of the project, we salute you.