Less Shatner, More Hotel Rooms

Online travel company Priceline.com on Monday launched its biggest advertising push in three years to convince consumers to try the company’s name-your-own-price services for hotel rooms.

The multi-million dollar ad campaign, which will include radio and Internet ads, would bring back William Shatner, albeit in a reduced role. He will narrate a series of television ads that feature travelers comparing Priceline’s service with the hotel-booking services of competitors Hotels.com, Expedia and Travelocity.

The Norwalk, Conn., company hopes the campaign will raise consumer awareness of Priceline’s hotel business, not just its name-your-own-price plane ticket service. The company said its hotels unit has sold 8 million hotel room nights, including 4 million in the past year. Priceline’s hotel network, which gives the company excess inventory to sell online to the highest bidder, includes more than 9,000 properties worldwide.

“Hotel reservations represents one of the fastest growing segments of the online travel industry,” said Chris Soder, president of Priceline Hotels, “and we want to make it known that we provide superior value and savings in that category for leisure travelers.”

The company will air the Shatner commercials on national cable, in addition to buying network spot time in major markets. For the first time, the commercials will not focus primarily on Shatner, although he will narrate stories about travelers saving money through Priceline compared to competing booking services.

“This is a very, very different approach,” said Brian Ek, a Priceline spokesman. “This is the first time its been primarily focused on the consumer and not [Shatner].”

Interpublic Group’s Gotham designed the campaign. Yesterday, Gotham got a dose of bad news, as AOL dismissed the agency after an eight-year relationship.

TV will make up the bulk of the campaign, Ek said. In addition, the campaign includes national and local radio. Also, Priceline plans an online component, with the biggest focus on the company’s affiliate network. While Priceline will run banner ads on a variety of sites, which Ek declined to identify, the company will not follow the lead of other online travel companies and serve pop-under ads.

Priceline’s hotel business has grown in importance in the company, due to the pronounced weakness of the airline business. In November, Priceline reported disappointing financial results, as the number of plane tickets it booked plunged 46 percent from a year earlier. The company said it would begin to shift more focus to its newer hotel services, which showed 37 percent growth in rooms booked during the quarter.

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