Priceline Retrenches

In a move to redefine Priceline.com as a cool, customer-focused enterprise, the client has rolled out the first commercial of a new national campaign, and conspicuously absent from the 30-second spot is familiar pitchman William Shatner.

With its stock price plummeting, the Norwalk, Conn., Internet company has eschewed Shatner’s off-key warbling, which graced ads all last year, to adopt a “cool, cutting-edge” stance, emulating approaches from clothing retailers Gap and Old Navy, sources said. Michael McCadden, chief marketing officer of Priceline, was hired last year from Gap Inc. Direct.

Last week, a single spot, “Jet Set,” began appearing in the New York market and on national cable in what sources called a “test”of the post-Shatner marketing strategy. The spot mixes a live-action restaurant scenario with animation and invites viewers to imagine what they can do with the money they save buying airline tickets through Priceline.

Client spokes-man Brian Ek called the approach “more consumer-focused” than the humorous Shatner efforts. Ek declined to “speculate” on Shatner’s ad future; the Star Trek actor remains under contract to Priceline through October. No decision has been made on whether the “Spend less. Live more” slogan introduced in the new commercial will permeate the 2001 campaign, Ek said.

Priceline spent nearly $75 million on ads last year; Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, New York, handles the business. Priceline’s stock has been trading in the $2 range; the 52-week high was $104.24.