Last week, Ad Age ran an article with a headline so brilliantly preposterous that you would’ve thought it had come from The Onion:
Priceline Kills the Messenger Because Ads Worked Too Well
And yet the ensuing article was not one of biting irony or satire. It was an all-too-well crafted report on how the above statement can seem utterly logical (albeit twisted) in today’s advertising world.
Who knows what’s really behind Priceline’s decision to kill an inventive, distinct and effective campaign after 14 years? Perhaps William Shatner is losing miles off his fastball (I’m trying to be delicate here), and if that’s the case then it is understandable, while unfortunate, that Priceline® feels a need to move on.
But in recent articles covering the split between Mr. Shatner and Priceline, the company has gone to great lengths to dispel the notion that there is anything wrong with Mr. Shatner or the advertising. In fact, they seem to suggest that the campaign is too successful, rather than waning.
It appears their concern is that consumers associate the Shatner character (called The Negotiator) so much with one part of their business – negotiating for the lowest price – that not only are the equities of the campaign unable to effectively transfer to a newer message, fixed pricing, but they would serve as a detriment to this new message despite the long-lasting success The Negotiator has brought them to date.
I find this a little shocking.
Let’s face it. It’s hard to craft a memorable and ownable campaign like The Negotiator. Is it really safer to kill the character off than to try to rework the campaign? And that’s another thing. Priceline isn’t just trying something new. They took the drastic, and perhaps tasteless, approach of actually having Mr. Shatner’s character die in a fiery bus crash in the campaign’s final spot. (It makes you wonder if the creatives at Butler Shine were so miffed at the death of the campaign that they might be trying to send a message to their client.)
Which leads me to ask, Why is nothing ever a true success anymore? Why are we so busy looking for the faults, the weaknesses, the hairline fractures in even the most inspired and well-received work? It’s as though, because it is so hard to succeed in today’s marketplace, we now spend our whole time trying to avoid failing rather than working harder to achieve success. And the danger in this is that people lose motivation. They certainly lose their desire to take risks. As a creative the worst thing you can feel is that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That even if you make your numbers it’s not good enough. I think most responsible creatives understand the need for testing and optimization. But here we have a campaign that did what it was supposed to, and for that it must die (literally it seems).
My point is: I’m not positive The Negotiator would have been a powerful vehicle for Priceline’s new messaging.
But it damn sure deserved a shot.