NORWALK, Conn. -- Move over, Capt. Kirk. Mr. Spock is now sharing command in commercials for Priceline.com.
The company went boldly into a new frontier in the late 1990s with its name-your-own-price approach to buying airline tickets and other products over the Internet.
But after the 2001 terrorist attacks airlines began deeply discounting their own prices, making the bargains offered by companies such as Priceline less attractive.
Priceline is still offering the name-your-own-price approach, but is adding a new service that allows customers to choose from a selection of published fares, flight times and airlines. Under the old method, customers could name their own price and travel dates, but Priceline chose the airline and flight times.
Company officials are hoping the new enterprise will appeal to a larger segment of the market that is looking for bargains, but must travel on a schedule.
"Priceline.com is no longer just for the highly flexible traveler who can fly any time on any airline," company chief executive Jeffery Boyd said Thursday.
To highlight the new choice, Norwalk, Conn.-based Priceline is starting a multimillion dollar television advertising campaign that begins airing Monday featuring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy of "Star Trek" fame.
"Star Trek" fans have long debated which actor was more responsible for the show's success. The commercial aims to send the message that with Priceline customers now have a choice.
"What better way to communicate choice than to put together the two actors whose fans have been debating their own rival popularity for decades," Priceline spokesman Brian Ek said.
Priceline gained popularity from a series of quirky commercials featuring Shatner. The original commercials featured a hip-looking Shatner singing offbeat renditions of popular songs, including "Freebird" and "Aquarius," while extolling the virtues of Priceline.
The new commercial tries to illustrate the new choice by jolting Shatner with the appearance of Nimoy as an alternative.
"Sorry, Mr. Shatner. We have to let you go," a woman tells him as he enters the human resources office in the new commercial.
"But I'm the voice of Priceline," Shatner says.
Shatner is told there is a new Priceline in which travelers can select their flights, times and airlines from a selection of fares.
"Yeah, but who could ever replace me?" Shatner asks.
Nimoy pokes his head in the office. "Hi guys," he says, as Shatner looks perplexed.
Priceline, once a darling of Wall Street, has struggled to revive its airline ticket business, although other segments such as hotels have grown quickly. The new service puts it in direct competition with services such as Expedia and Travelocity.
Priceline's move comes as online travel sites look for new ways to compete. Research shows that the average customer checks three sites before buying an airline ticket or travel package, so while the best deal still matters, companies are adding features in an effort to build customer loyalty.
Al Ries, a marketing consultant in Atlanta, said the move may generate more business in the short run. But he said Priceline runs the risk of complicating its message by offering both approaches to ticket purchases and a new commercial with two spokesmen instead of one.
"I think companies make a mistake when they broaden their appeal," Ries said. "In broadening their appeal, they're going to confuse the marketplace."
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