HopStop Launches Self-Serve Local Ad Play

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HopStop, the navigation service that pioneered point-to-point transit directions six years ago, has launched an advertising product aimed at local marketers. The self-serve platform allows local merchants to target HopStop users who search for directions to or from their neighborhood with a short call-to-action ad. As a special promotion, the New York-based company is offering $250 of free advertising and a complimentary direction link for a merchant’s website in an attempt to ease in notoriously reticent local merchants.

The local product is an extension of what the company was already doing with large, locally oriented brands like Starbucks, says CEO Joe Meyer. “We were dealing with [big brands] on a one-off basis. But as we started to hear more and more interest from local business, we thought, ‘why don’t we bring that targeting capability to true local businesses – that was the genesis.”

Meyer says the company spent the last few months building out a self-serve platform that would make posting an ad as easy as updating a business listing. Local businesses enter basic information as well as an image and call-to-action — say, ‘come check out our famous chicken sandwich’ — in the beginning of their campaign and HopStop then manages implementation and back-end logistics.

As far as lead generation is concerned, the company is relying on incentives and a lowered barrier to entry to bring in new clients. The “if you build it, they will come” approach is particularly dangerous in a local marketing space that is saturated with a swarm of fledgling deals sites who are bombarding local businesses with sales calls on a daily basis.

At the moment, the product is web-only, but the company says that mobile ads are in the works. “We are very bullish on mobile,” says Meyer about transition the product into an mobile environment. “That said, its a smaller screen and there is not much real estate to play with but there is also more engagement as well. There are opportunities and challenges to both,”

Meyer acknowledges the importance of mobile in the location-based space but hesitates to write off the web altogether. “If we had started our service today or last year, chances are we would have never built a website; we would have just gone mobile. If that were the case, we would only be servicing the on-the-go user and we would have been missing that advance trip planning use-case.”

Meyer declined to comment on the specifics of the mobile ad product, but believes that the company’s history of moving from web to mobile will aid in the transition. “We usually leverage the web experience to create awareness around our mobile apps. Its kind of a marketing challenge for us, as well.”

It still remains to be seen how the local ad stack will develop around location-based services, but with a huge amount of supply bidding for a large, but difficult to tap, demand, the direct sales/self-serve model appears unlikely to dominate the space. What we may say is something in line with what Foursquare is building: an API-driven environment in which the heavy lifting is delegated to a new breed of merchant specialists/local marketing solution companies who plug seamlessly into location-based consumer applications.