Drink Coasters 2.0: Seacoast Startup Puts Ads In A New Place


By turning drink coasters into local advertising space, a self-described “coaster fiend” and her three friends are trying to promote local businesses, support charities – and create local jobs while they’re at it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. LocalCoaster sells low-cost advertising to local shops like The RiverRun Bookstore on one side of a coaster.
  2. On the flip side of the coaster, they sell higher-cost advertising to larger corporations – like Holloway Mercedes in Greenland.
  3. The coasters are distributed to local restaurants for free.
  4. The advertisers and restaurants vote on their favorite charities, online.
  5. The winning charity collects the first $5,000 of ad revenue.

So far, Whit Whitman – the coaster collector – and her three sidekicks, co-founders Jim Thompson, Susan Wiley, and Matt Burke, have 11 local businesses signed up, and one corporate advertiser. Saturday, they will deliver the first 110,000 coasters – which are made in Austin, TX – to 21 participating Portsmouth restaurants.

Most of the 16 charities are local or regional. They range from the Joan G. Lovering Health Center in Portsmouth, to Seacoast Eat Local.

Sounds cool. But is this business model viable?

After talking to Whit Whitman and cofounder Matt Burke, we called up Thomas Gruen, the chair of the Whittemore School Of Business’s marketing department,  at The University of New Hampshire.  He was impressed by LocalCoaster’s use of: a “unique parternship” that allows for “new forms of advertising promotion;” online engagement; and new trends in corporate social responsibility.

However, “I’m not buying their stock,” Gruen said. “From a sheer executional complexity standpoint I honestly don’t see how that is going to work and make money.”

Yet, Gruen couldn’t quite put the idea down. He suggested LocalCoaster could charge more for advertising by focusing on beer brands, because advertisers would know the coasters were being viewed by their target market. In the same vein, Gruen said, having advertisements for businesses in walking distance of the restaurants with coasters could make the ad space similarly valuable.

What’s next?

Whitman and her partners are optimistic. “I feel strongly that once we get six, eight, ten towns up and running, we will not only be helping local charities and local commerce, but we are going to generate a handful of jobs in each of those towns,” Whitman says.

This February, LocalCoaster will launch in Portland, Maine. After that, they hope to expand to White Mountains, and beyond.

Author’s correction: we apologize for initially misspelling Holloway Mercedes “Halloway” Mercedes, and pluralizing “LocalCoaster.”



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