Why dot-com businesses are big buyers of traditional TV ads's Brett Keller on the company's Canadian foray and publicity strategy

William Shatner as the Priceline Negotiator

William Shatner as the Priceline Negotiator (

William Shatner is a Canadian icon. The Montreal-born actor has won Emmys, a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, and the honour of serving as Grand Marshal of this year’s Calgary Stampede. But our southern neighbours probably know Shatner best from two key TV roles: Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek: The Original Series, and the “Priceline Negotiator” from a series of ads for the travel website of the same name.

In September, Priceline rolled out its first-ever made-for-Canada campaign with this 30-second TV spot:

READ: launches Canadian campaign starring William Shatner »

The company has attracted Canadian customers before, says Chief Marketing Officer Brett Keller, but that was simply a happy accident. “Canadians have found us for years and typing in our brand or other keywords, or going to sites like Kayak to do a comparison search and finding us,” he explains.“But we’ve never actively attempted to build our brand in Canada.”

TV has long been a key marketing platform for A recent report from industry group Cable Nation drew a direct link between the offline advertising spending and web traffic of pure-play Internet brands—businesses that rely on traffic to generate revenue,  in the form of e-commerce or advertising.

READ: Internet advertising is a Ponzi scheme: Bruce Philp »

Keller discussed’s advertising strategy and the role that spokespeople like Shatner play in brand marketing.

Canadian BusinessThe fact that you still advertise on TV suggests that there is still a marketing return on investment there.

Brett Keller: If we didn’t feel it was producing a return for our business, we wouldn’t be doing it. It’s an integral part of our advertising strategy, and one that complements what we do online.

Any marketer will tell you: a strong brand aids in the performance of your online media. So, for example, if a customer types ‘cheap hotels’ into Google and there are five brands presented, those that carry more weight because of their brand strength are going to have a higher click-through rate and a higher conversion rate if the product is decent. It allows those of us with stronger brand presence to play more effectively in online channels.

What’s the difference in strategy to generate a click for an online ad versus a TV ad?

Online is a highly direct response platform. In that platform we typically have what we call ‘intent signals’—consumers have told us something about their trip or what they want. So it’s much easier for us to present them with a landing page or a set of search results that very much meet their needs in that moment.

Offline is very different. We don’t know if the people watching are in the market right then or not. Even though the ad might have calls to action in it, it is not personalized in the way that an online campaign would be structured for a consumer.

William Shatner is a TV star, so a TV ad seems like the perfect medium to use him in.

He’s central to everything we do here in the States with our brand work, and we’ve now added as a counterpart Kaley Couco, who’s also a huge TV star here in the United States and in Canada. Kaley wasn’t a part of our first campaign [in Canada], but she will certainly be a part of future efforts that run in the Canadian market.

Does the celebrity endorsement concept work better on TV than it does online?

It’s much harder to use a spokesman or spokeswoman in an online static banner ad, and you can’t use them at all in things like search results, Google, or Trip Advisor. TV is by far the most efficient way to create a brand, and adding spokespeople to that aids in the speed with which that brand can be built and emboldened.