Why Priceline Ditched The Negotiator To Help You Not Hook Up With Your Cousin

The new brand campaign focuses on mobile and the importance of all those little trips.

For most of the last decade, if you thought about Priceline, chances are an image of William Shatner wasn’t far behind. The iconic actor’s character, The Negotiator, helped establish the brand as a leader in online travel and had become almost synonymous with Priceline’s identity. But now with a new campaign, the brand has ditched its longstanding spokesman to signal a shift in both its marketing strategy and product offering. Before it was about finding the best deal for your big trip. Now it’s about getting the best deal so you don’t miss that family wedding and then someday accidentally hook up with your cousin. Sort of.


The new ads, by agency BBDO New York, depict a variety of scenarios in which not making that last minute trip–to a wedding, visit grandma, meet your adopted child–could result in ridiculous disaster. Priceline chief marketing officer Brett Keller says the move illustrates the brand’s own shift towards the mobile traveler.

“The campaign itself is an exact mirror of what’s happening to our consumer base,” says Keller. “Over the last few years there’s been a huge surge in the mobile traveler. It’s changed how people book travel. With this mobile generation, it drives shorter more frequent trips, and more travel overall. There are so many reasons people need to book travel, and we have a highly tuned mobile product that can help. So we know consumers use us for these moments in their lives. It’s not necessarily about booking the big trip of a lifetime to Bali, but all the little trips every year.”

BBDO NY Executive Creative Directors Dan Lucey and Chris Beresford-Hill say that since most travel advertising is focused on big epic trips, the point of the campaign is to really elevate utility travel.

“It’s the kind of trips that come up in your life that aren’t always planned way ahead of time, and create a construct that would elevate those trips and show their importance,” says Beresford-Hill. “Once we had the set up we just tried to think of the worst thing that could possibly happen.”

According to the brand, more than 75% of mobile bookings are same-day or next-day check-in.

“We’re trying to show with all these kinds of trips, there’s always something at stake, whether it’s a family wedding, checking in on a grandparent or whatever the case, so we just tried to take these real-life situations and try to find the most entertaining way to bring them to life,” says Lucey.


Priceline also partnered with Facebook, creating about 30 different videos for a variety of last-minute travel excuses, to remind people of upcoming opportunities. “We were able to work with Facebook to know they could find out if someone’s best friend got engaged or their dad has a birthday coming up. We knew we’d have those things to work with,” says Beresford-Hill. “So it was just a matter of creating a video concept that would make best use of those targeting opportunities.”

Up next ahead of the NBA All-Star game on February 13, the brand is set to launch a spot starring former NBA stars Latrell Sprewell and David Robinson. And while The Negotiator may be gone, the brand wasn’t able to quit Shatner completely–enjoy his smooth storytelling stylings as the narrator of the campaign.


About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.