The price is right, says William Shatner
I won’t deny that I’ve had my share of bizarre experiences living in New York. But the scariest occurred outside my local Gristedes supermarket. That’s when an innocuous-looking college kid shoved something large and bulky into my hand. And before I could bolt, I felt the force of William Shatner’s head radiating out of my palm.
Even though his photo was placed inside the exceedingly busy, logo-dotted, six-sided priceline.com promo piece, I’d never seen such a bronze-faced, intensely-coiffed, beaming-eyed portrait.
His head seemed to jump off the page. “This is big, really big,” the man with the laser-like gaze and formidable hairpiece is quoted as saying inside, right underneath “Gloria W.” who asserts, “I love using priceline.com to name my price for soda, beer, coffee, film, pet food, diapers, candy and cereal.”
Now the image of being behind Gloria’s cart in a crowded checkout line got me off track, but just one peek at the blinding Shatner gaze set me into a trance.
The next thing I knew, I was breaking the window of Staples to get to a computer to print out my grocery list so I could stock up on underpriced Tang and strip steak. The part about Staples isn’t true–it was P.C. Richards. Actually, the whole process seemed so daunting (even to a steely Internet user like myself) that I dropped the promo piece in my bag and avoided the guy giving them out, as if I were saving myself from a crazed Amway salesperson.
And even though the print ads are even more dense and alienating, I got the gist of the process from a TV spot, in which the commanding Star Trek officer appears in Mr. Rogers-like leisurewear in front of his computer, then pushes around a grocery cart. (He also appears in a third spot wearing a tie and a vest, a sort of gentleman-greengrocer-meets-Mr.-Whipple look.) He shows us how to name our price on a variety of things. (The former captain has a soft spot for Cap’n Crunch and Brawny paper towels.) By the third ad, he’s onto Hefty trash bags.
An actor who made his fortune in uniform as the head of the Enterprise is not someone you’d expect to find bargaining for paper towels. But he does it with a certain ƒlan, and boy can he push a cart. It turns out that the “name your price” grocery application is called WebHouse, a new division which priceline.com is testing in New York. If successful, it will hit the rest of the country.
Priceline’s founder, Jay Walker, was recently canonized on the cover of Forbes as a “New Age Edison,” someone who will “reinvent the environmental DNA” of global business. In addition to providing airline tickets and hotel reservations, the core business now includes car purchasing and home loans.
But it was the company’s stock offering that proved the most eye-popping of all the dot.com IPOs, making Walker a multibillionaire.
Shatner was paid scale and in stock options; his stock is now reportedly worth $200 million. The company started only with radio and print ads that Walker wrote himself. (All the grocery ads were created in-house.)
Last summer, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, was awarded the business. The shop decided to keep spokesmonument Shatner–but use him in a much bigger way. Hill, Holliday’s seven commercials will debut in late December or early January, allowing the Trekmeister to show his Tony Bennett side. He has a microphone, a back-up band and an audience. Now, in his unique staccato rapping style, Shatner will “sing” songs that speak to generations: “The Age of Aquarius,” “Freebird” and “I Want You to Want Me.” And I thought his head was scary.
Priceline.com., Stamford, Conn.
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