The folks at Priceline and their ad agency either have balls the size of Jupiter or the mental capacity of rock salt.
After 14 years of building one of the most successful travel brands around William Shatner and his character, "The Negotiator," they're throwing him off a bridge and moving on to a new campaign.
Creating iconic advertising that is both memorable and effective is hard. And while associating your brand with a single celebrity is fraught with peril – as many of Tiger Woods' sponsors found out – Priceline and Shatner have had one of the rarest and most successful brand/spokesperson relationships in recent memory.
It's not as if the campaign was losing steam. The spots have still been fun and entertaining and Priceline continues to grow. Just last quarter their revenue increased 45% over the previous year's.
So why would they do this?
Priceline is expanding their product beyond just name your own price, to pre-negotiated deals with over 200,000 hotels, and they feel "The Negotiator" will limit their ability to get this message out.
I'd suggest that a greater danger lies ahead: Priceline will not be able to come up with a campaign that either stands out or has the staying power of the current campaign featuring Shatner. In trying to broaden their message, they may just lose their voice.
Think of the great spokesperson campaigns in recent memory – Cosby for Jello, Jordan for Nike, Dave Thomas for Wendy's – what came after?
Only in the case of Nike has the subsequent campaign been able to maintain the level of consistency and awareness. That's only because Nike built Jordan's image on the idea of "Just Do It," a broader campaign idea that supports all of their efforts. Priceline has no such platform.
My guess is that the marketing executives at Priceline, much like Pamela Ewing, will wake up from a year from now to find William Shatner's character in the shower, ready to go for another season. And this will all have been just a bad dream.