Priceline.com's Troubador Campaign
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

Priceline.com's Troubador Campaign

Since great commercials don’t always receive wide attention, Priceline.com hired Rogers & Cowan to create a strategic public relations program to promote their advertising campaign.

Paul Holmes

  Priceline.com launched its web site in 1998 touting its “Name-Your-Own-Price” service for airline tickets and hotel reservations.  In April 1998, Priceline.com enlisted world-famous film and television actor William Shatner to speak on behalf of the brand via radio commercials.  During the year the commercials aired, the company experienced significant increases in consumer purchases on the site, further positioning the Priceline.com brand nationwide.  Wanting to capitalize on Mr. Shatner’s important role in catapulting Priceline.com to national prominence, the company set out to enlist Mr. Shatner in a series of television commercials aimed at strengthening the brand in the marketplace.  In January 2000, Priceline.com launched the first phase of their television advertising campaign featuring William Shatner, which spoofed his singing career.   A second phase of new commercials was launched in May of 2000 featuring William Shatner once again, but this time accompanied by such well-known musicians as Ben Folds, Lisa Loeb and Fishbone.  These commercials were developed to create attention for the Priceline.com services in an effort to increase and reinforce brand identity among consumers nationwide.  Since great commercials don’t always receive wide attention, Priceline.com hired Rogers & Cowan to create a strategic public relations program to promote their advertising campaign.
 
CHALLENGES
 
During the first phase of the campaign, Rogers & Cowan overcame the initial resistance by the news media in covering a story with commercial overtones by emphasizing the entertainment value of Shatner as a performer.  Journalists initially were wary of reporting on a story that might be construed as an endorsement of the Priceline.com campaign.  However, Rogers & Cowan provided the results of scientifically-conducted surveys that documented the popularity of the commercials among the public, which paved the way for editorial coverage by both business and consumer press.  During the second phase, Rogers & Cowan experienced a challenge in trying to book Mr. Shatner with additional television appearances, including VH-1, MTV and Larry King Live.  Mr. Shatner was concerned of overexposure in advance of his next feature film, Miss Congeniality, so he declined many of those secured press opportunities.  In addition, Mr. Shatner was only contracted with Priceline to provide a total of 40 hours of media relations in Phase 2 of the campaign, much of which was used during the second New York junket.
 
RESEARCH
 
When Priceline.com launched its “Name-Your-Own-Price” service in 1998, the company was selling just over 1,500 leisure airline tickets per week.  But once Mr. Shatner came on board as the brand’s spokesperson, Priceline.com immediately began to see a steady increase in purchases made on their site.  By December 1999, Priceline.com had seen their ticket sales bump up to 50,000 tickets a week, accounting for approximately 2% of all leisure airline tickets sold in the United States.  Priceline.com attributed those incredible increases to Mr. Shatner’s radio spots.  His recognition and appeal span generations and geography and his association with futuristic things made him an ideal spokesperson for the brand. Due to the success of the Shatner radio spots, Priceline.com decided to create a series of television commercials featuring Mr. Shatner.
 
PLANNING/STRATEGY
 
Objectives:
  • Build brand awareness and increase the market status of Priceline.com, positioning the company as the premier e-commerce destination on the Internet, offering members unparalleled service and savings on a variety of consumer goods.
  • Create national awareness for Priceline.com’s new advertising campaigns by aggressively seeking opportunities for media exposure in the entertainment, consumer, business and technology press.
  • Sustain the interest level for the advertising campaigns through highly creative and impactful media activities over the life of the campaigns.
  • Garner media attention and build consumer awareness for the Priceline.com website to increase traffic and sales.

 
Audience:
Priceline.com’s targeted audience during this campaign covered a wide range of demographics, from avid William Shatner fans both young and old, to savings conscious families, to the general consumer.  Rogers & Cowan planned, created and executed a two-part public relations campaign in the first half of year 2000 to significantly raise public awareness of the Priceline.com brand and its “Name-You-Own-Price” consumer services.  Focusing on the Priceline.com TV commercials featuring William Shatner, the media campaign resulted in substantial coverage in the national media including magazines, newspapers and daytime and prime-time television.
 
Phase One of the campaign, Jan. 3 – April 30, introduced the public to the new TV commercials. The multi-level promotional program was highlighted by crafting key messages for both William Shatner and Priceline.com executives emphasizing the basic elements of the TV commercials themselves, as well as the unique style with which they were shot.  Rogers & Cowan targeted key entertainment publications and television news magazine shows to exclusively launch particular spots in the campaign, as well as coordinated a New York press tour targeting national morning and late night television to introduce the series of commercials to consumers.  Building upon the momentum, we then coordinated a national satellite television press tour targeting the top 20 markets, and continued to secure national business and consumer press in an effort to maintain the Priceline.com image in the marketplace.
 
Phase Two of the campaign, May 1 – August 31, had a two-fold purpose: to build upon the momentum created during the first campaign, and secondly, to introduce the public to 13 new Priceline.com commercials (featuring  Shatner). The new commercials introduced additional Priceline services to the public, including long-distance phone, mortgages and rental cars.  Once again, the campaign targeted entertainment, business and consumer media with exclusive opportunities for key media outlets.  The business press was informed of the tremendous success of the television commercials as an advertising-marketing vehicle.  The addition of real-life recording artists Ben Folds, Lisa Loeb and Fishbone to the talent line-up of the commercials provided additional fodder for the consumer and entertainment press.
 
EXECUTION
 
Phase One: Mass-media outlets were targeted for Phase 1 of the campaign.   William Shatner, 68, was pitched as a cross-generational pop icon whose career spanned from his starring role in the 1960s Star Trek TV series to his latest incarnation as the hip, new millennium spokesperson for Priceline.com, the trend setting e-commerce company.  In pitching television and radio outlets we capitalized on the public’s warm embrace of the campy priceline.com commercials featuring William Shatner.  We targeted business, entertainment industry and consumer publications for coverage, using William Shatner’s pop-icon status as a hook.  The self-effacing nature of the commercials also was underscored in order to cultivate coverage of a pop phenomenon rather than strictly a commercial advertisement.  Influential nationally-syndicated outlets, for example, Extra and Entertainment Tonight, were given the opportunity to preview certain commercials in the series in order to enhance the exclusive nature of their coverage.
 
Phase Two: Phase two of the campaign began with an exclusive announcement of the second set of commercials in the Wall Street Journal, followed by a press tour in New York, focusing on a second round of television appearances for William Shatner and interviews with the business press for Shatner and Priceline.com marketing executive Michael McCadden.  Following the New York tour, Rogers & Cowan secured additional coverage with Shatner in Los Angeles, although his time was limited due to his competing commitments for the marketing of his new book and next feature film.  We secured placement of Shatner discussing Priceline.com on national television programs, business and entertainment press, not secured in Phase 1.  We also targeted coverage by music publications of the Priceline.com ad campaign by emphasizing the new talent line-up that included recording artists Ben Folds, Lisa Loeb and Fishbone as well as William Shatner.
 
RESULTS
 
From the first commercial that aired on January 3, 2000, Priceline.com saw an immediate impact on its sales and record numbers of new customers.  Priceline.com added a record 1.5 million new customers in the 1Q 2000, bringing its total customer base to 5.3 million.  In addition, 830,000 repeat customers used Priceline.com in the 1Q 2000, a 500% increase over 1Q 1999 and a 72 % increase over 4Q.  Most importantly, Priceline.com increased their brand awareness to an estimated two-thirds of the entire US adult population, placing Priceline.com into a statistical dead-heat with Amazon.com as the most recognized e-commerce brand in America according to independent consumer research.  Priceline.com attributed those massive numbers to the William Shatner television spots in tandem with Rogers & Cowan’s strategic public relations campaign.
 
Print and television media responded enthusiastically to both Shatner as a personality spokesperson and to analysis of the TV commercial campaign itself.  Indeed, journalists wondered out loud in their coverage as to why America was so taken with the Shatner-Priceline.com TV commercials.  According to AdWeek magazine, the Priceline.com TV commercials were rated by consumers as among their Top 3 favorite and most recognizable commercials.
 
Overall, the program achieved heavy national and regional coverage in television, radio, print and internet media, including Entertainment Tonight, Extra, Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, CNNfn, Wall Street Journal, Daily Variety, AdWeek, Advertising Age, The New York Post, Time Magazine, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, Us Weekly and USA Weekend, among others.  As a result of the heavy coverage, Priceline.com not only saw a substantial increase in its customer base, but in market share, rising to over $100 a share by mid-March 2000.  The Priceline.com brand had truly become a household name and continues to build prominence not only on a national level, but internationally as well.

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