Who remembers Star Trek anyway? It's likely that just as many people or more know actor William Shatner through his Priceline advertising gig. Are big-name celebrities better in commercials than owls, gnomes, and belt-less soap opera stars? We're not sure of his return on investment, but at this point he can almost name his own price.
Grabbing breakfast with a bunch of reporters at Tuscany Steakhouse in Manhattan on Monday to mark Priceline’s 20th anniversary, legendary actor, singer (OK maybe not-so legendary) and pitchman William Shatner held forth on numerous issues of the day, including travel, emerging technologies, acting, social media and social justice.
Away from the gaggle of reporters, one of whom incredulously asked Shatner when is the best time to book a flight, as if that were his expertise, Skift grabbed five minutes at a breakfast table with the actor.
Asked how he looks at his 20-year stint, which spanned print, radio, and TV commercials hawking Name Your Own Price as the Priceline Negotiator, then Express Deals, and now the company’s Tweniversary, Shatner said he’s incredibly proud of the gig.
Shatner has had his ups and downs with his Priceline work over the years, including in the early days when the stock price fell from $265 per share to around $2.25, decimating his stock-based compensation, and several years ago when the company seemingly killed off his Negotiator character in a cliffhanger, or actually his bus went over a bridge, in the commercials when Name Your Own Price lost its luster.
But he later did voiceovers in the commercials, and this month has been featured in Priceline’s 20th anniversary commercials.
Shatner, 87, boasted that no celebrity has enjoyed such a long and successful commercial run as a company’s pitchman over two decades.
Me? Use Name Your Own Price?
In the early years of his Priceline engagement, Shatner reportedly said that he never actually used the Priceline Name Your Own Price bidding service that he was promoting because it only offered coach class, but he was having none of that today.
Dressed in a suit accented with a pocket square, Shatner said he and his family use Priceline all the time. In fact, he claimed he only uses Priceline for his travels.
For example, Shatner recalled getting into a limo with his wife and realizing on the way to the airport that he forgot his “man bag.” The limo turned around, but got a flat tire.
But have no fear for the suddenly digitally savvy former Captain Kirk: Shatner said he rebooked his flight using the Priceline app, where you can view the available seats.
Skift wanted to clear up the historical record with Shatner. He confirmed, as Priceline founder Jay Walker recounted in Skift’s Definitive Oral History of Online Travel, that Priceline marketing executive Jord Poster, whose wife was friends with Shatner’s wife, recruited the actor to be Priceline’s spokesman in 1998.
But Shatner was unaware, as Skift informed him, that actor Bill Cosby had been one of the names Poster had been considering for the advertising gig.
“It looks like it worked out well for Jay Walker then,” Shatner said, referring to Cosby’s conviction on sexual assault charges.
Shatner did cast doubt, though, on Walker’s tale about a supermodel and a tiny dog doing due diligence for the actor about Priceline’s business before he accepted the advertising job.
“It’s a nice story,” Shatner said, laughing, and dismissing the anecdote. His wife indeed was a model — not a supermodel — he said, but they had Dobermans so it was unlikely that she pulled up to Priceline headquarters in Norwalk, Connecticut holding a tiny dog in her arms.
Shatner was willing to offer an opinion on one hot-button advertising issue: The U.S. Trivago Guy — actor Tim Williams — who some have called “creepy,” although he has legions of fans as Trivago’s TV actor-spokesman. Shatner quipped that he should wear a belt and a get a shave.
Travel Like a Local
In an informal meeting with the assembled press, Shatner advised that the best way to travel is to “be part of the country” you are visiting, and frequent “mom and pop restaurants.”
You see, Shatner, despite his wealth, apparently travels like a local — somewhat, anyway.
Shatner said he loves traveling with his family, and most of them use electric scooters, which is a great way to bond with one another and for him to keep up with the 12 year olds. He said he looks forwarding to them all traveling with their electric scooters.
If you are interested in Shatner’s views about social media and emerging technologies, he does indeed have a take on each. He mentioned that social media should be used to create “good feelings,” such as pairing people in need in South Africa’s sprawling townships with businesses that can contribute things like four tires when needed, for example. He’ll prod his fan club to get involved in such efforts, and he’ll give the participating businesses their due on social media.
On emerging technologies, Shatner said Priceline should use new technologies to inform consumers when the optimal time is to book trips (some companies like Hopper, for example, have this feature); explained that he’s keeping tabs on virtual reality and augmented reality; and argued that solar energy, as opposed to coal and oil, is the way to go to save the planet.
Yes, one member of the assembled press did ask the actor where is his favorite place to travel is, and he responded that he’s been doing a lot of traveling, and now he’d like to head “home.”
Not a bad answer at all, although it was clear he felt right at home, too, talking about his 20-year stint with Priceline — and expounding upon just about anything else.
Here’s Shatner in Priceline’s Tweniversary commercial
Photo credit: A photo from William Shatner's Tweniversary Priceline commercial to mark 20 years since the company was founded. Priceline