"Save yourself - some money."
Those were William Shatner's last words as Priceline's "Negotiator." The discount-travel booking site apparently killed off the television and movie legend last week in a TV advertisement.
In the commercial, which has been airing nationally and will also be shown during the Super Bowl pre-game show, Shatner's character saves the lives of fellow travelers as their bus teeters on the edge of a bridge. As the last passenger steps off, Shatner says "Save yourself - some money," handing his cellphone to a woman just before the bus falls off the bridge, bursting into flames as it crashes to the ground.
According to the company, Priceline is moving in a new direction - from negotiating to a fixed-price business model. In an official press release, Priceline's Chief Marketing Official Brett Keller said: "We felt it was necessary to go to extremes to grab the attention of every consumer in America and drive home the message that you don't have to negotiate to save money on a hotel at priceline.com. We know that The Negotiator has a lot of fans, and we hope that everyone understands this was something that just had to be done."
Shatner, the 80-year-old actor who became famous as Star Trek Captain James T. Kirk, took the news in stride. "I'm in grief mode," he quipped to an AP reporter. "It's not the first time I've had an iconic character die off."
Shatner has been the chief spokesperson for Priceline for the past 14 years. Whether or not his character has truly been written off remains a mystery. There's still one year left on Shatner's contract, which has been incredibly lucrative. Shatner accepted Priceline stock as part of his compensation when the contract was signed in 1997 - a deal reportedly worth $600 million - making Shatner a very rich man. (Talk about smart negotiating!)
Drew Kerr, president and founder of Four Corners Communications, says it's highly likely Shatner could return.
"I don't think Priceline is going to kill the golden goose after 14 years, especially when he's so closely identified with that brand," Kerr says. "It's a brilliantly executed PR stunt to make people think he is gone."
Kerr says Priceline's decision to change direction stems from increased competition in online travel. In addition to traditional competitors like Expedia and Orbitz, Priceline now faces a barrage of travel websites created by a consortium of hotels working together to provide deals to consumers, like the new website Room Key. According to travel industry research firm PhoCusWright, the U.S. online travel market reached nearly $109 billion in 2011.
Shatner was a believable negotiator, Kerr says, and that's partly why the campaign was so successful. Celebrities don't necessarily guarantee a hit product and many memorable and popular advertising campaigns include normal people (look at the recent commercials created by Chevy and Doritos.)
Fans of Shatner and Priceline will have to stay tuned.
- William Shatner