Shortly after Priceline sent its 14-year spokesman, William Shatner, to his fiery death, the team involved realised it might have made a mistake.
“Oh boy, we heard from customers,” Priceline spokesperson Brian Ek’s told Business Insider.
So seven months after airing a Super Bowl spot in which “The Negotiator” was shown being pushed off a cliff in a tour bus (that then exploded to stamp out any ambiguities), he’s back … this time as a surfer.
The new spot, created by Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, opens with the Negotiator, suit pants rolled up, by the shore. “You’ve been busy for a dead man,” another suited man says.
“Surfing is my life now,” Shatner responds as he runs away from Negotiating duties, surfboard in hands, into the waves. “Sayonara, brah!”
But Shatner, who is still under contract, wasn’t always going to come back as a lost cast member from Point Break.
“There were 20 to 30 scripts on the wall of how we could bring the guy back to life,” BSSP Associate Creative Director, Josh Leutz, told BI. “Everything was on the table from bringing him back as a half robot, half man to a reincarnation.”
At the end of the day, the shop went with the “hero who gets burnt out and tries to reinvent himself in a new life” trope.
Priceline sent the spokesman off the cliff in the first place because Shatner was too well-recognised as a Negotiator, and the company changed its model from a negotiating to fixed price model. Proving that you can be too good at your job.
“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,” Priceline CMO Brett Keller told Dow Jones. “We hope that everyone understands this was something that just had to be done.”
Although some of the creatives at BSSP saw the killing as a cool opportunity—”It was exciting because you don’t really see that in advertising,” Leutz explained, “You don’t see anyone killing off the energizer bunny!”—the rest of the world disagreed.
A Priceline.com survey showed that 94 per cent of users wanted The Negotiator back. He was synonymous with the brand, after all. So much so that when E-Poll asked participants “What is the first thought that comes to mind when you see the name of this brand?” the number of people who answered Shatner (Captain Kirk, or some other variant) and “Travel” were almost identical.
In fact, at Ad Age’s Digital Conference in April, Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney joked that Priceline’s biggest stock risk “is that they took William Shatner out.”
Even Shatner was torn up about it, telling the AP, “I’m in grief mode. It’s not the first time I’ve had an iconic character die off.”
Although Ek told Business Insider that the Negotiator was brought back in conjunction with a new, negotiation-like product called “Express Deals,” Shatner was at the centre of Priceline’s ad campaign even without appearing in the spots. One even had a medium communicating with his spirit.
But now that he’s back, it appears as if there are no hard feelings.
While Priceline gives no explanation for how Shatner survived the crash (“I was surprised … the first thing I looked for was a backstory,” Ek admitted), the actor provided his own.
Explains Shatner, “A beautiful girl gave me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”
Now, if the Negotiator can breathe life into Priceline’s stock, which recently fell below analysts’ expectations, everyone will be happy.
See the spot below:
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