NEW YORK -- It was 1998 when a travel startup -- known as a "dot-com"
in those days -- called Priceline.com signed on "Star Trek" celebrity
William Shatner to do a series of radio commercials, then TV ads,
in exchange for a few hundred dollars and stock.
Back then, the colorful Apple iMac was brand new, and
cellular phones were just becoming popular. The term OTA was not yet coined.
The web was a new thing but poised to be a major disrupter in travel. The reverse-auction
premise of Priceline.com set it apart from Expedia and Travelocity (Orbitz was
still a few years from launch).
Priceline's other ace was Shatner's "Negotiator"
personality, which was witty and fun, a travel-deal hero in a light-colored
suit. Remember the blue phone? When Leonard Nimroy stole Shatner's thunder?
When Priceline appeared to kill off the Negotiator by sending him over a bridge
in a bus?
Through it all, and even through the demise of Name Your Own
Price for air and car rentals, Shatner continued as Priceline's primary spokesman.
Shatner on Monday was in New York for a media breakfast, and
at the urging of Priceline CEO Brett Keller, he reminisced about the start of
the relationship. Shatner "vividly" recalled the setting in his
house, overlooking the San Fernando Valley, as he took a meeting with a
"What's a dot-com company? I had no idea," he
said. He admitted to having trouble saying the name of the company (one word,
no pause between "Priceline" and "dot-com"). And he joked
that he was excited about the prospect of getting rich off the Priceline stock
-- before the dot-com bubble burst and sent prices tumbling.
"We made these
extraordinary commercials that I'd like to think helped push the company into
popularity," he said. "And here we are, 20 years later."
He added that he uses
Priceline's services "all the time."
As for creative
control, Keller said that Shatner helped shape the ads as they went along: The
agency delivers a script, and Shatner provides feedback, "which most of
the time we take into account." On set, Shatner will deliver a version
exactly as scripted, Keller said. "Then he'll say, 'I've got a better
idea.' He'll modify the lines, he'll modify how the script unfolds. Nine times
out of 10, we're cutting the spots around things that were not in the original
The company's current ad spot is "Twentiversary"
that celebrates Priceline's 20 years with deals. In true wry fashion, Shatner
pops out of a cake, and offers viewers a birthday cake, but a phone pops out of
the cake, but the phone is actually a cake (did you follow that?).