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William Shatner is probably best known for playing two roles: James T. Kirk on Star Trek, and The Negotiator in Priceline.com commercials.

James T. Kirk will live forever in the minds of Star Trek fans, but The Negotiator is dead after plunging off a bridge in a bus in the process of saving a family.

In a press release, Priceline.com's CMO Brett Keller explained, "The Priceline Negotiator has become very strongly associated with the priceline.com brand and the concept of negotiating to get a deal on a hotel room. However, priceline.com customers don't have to negotiate themselves to get a deal.  Without bidding, they can choose from over 200,000 quality hotels around the world, with thousands of them on sale every day at rates we've negotiated for them."

To drive that point home, Priceline.com created a fiery end to The Negotiator's life. "We know that The Negotiator has a lot of fans, and we hope that everyone understands this was something that just had to be done," Keller added.

Smart move, or a Netflix-like branding disaster in the making?

Time will tell, but there does appear to be significant risk for Priceline.com. After all, the company has made a name for itself with a simple value proposition: you can book a hotel room at a significant discount by naming your own price. By refocusing on the alternative option (booking a hotel at a pre-negotiated rate), Priceline.com is obviously moving away from the value proposition that made it a household name, and a huge success.

Given that Priceline.com is an established brand, and isn't entirely ditching the model that made it famous, it's possible this could work. And it may be necessary. Ostensibly, the company is looking to de-emphasize its bidding model because the fixed-price model makes the most dollars and sense from a business standpoint.

But make no mistake about it: Priceline.com is now smack dab in the middle of a space that has plenty of competition. That will likely create significant marketing challenges for the company. In short, it needs to convince consumers that it's a great place to find a hotel deal even if they're not naming their own price.

The good news is that Priceline.com still has Shatner under contract, so it will be interesting to see if and how the company uses him going forward.

Patricio Robles

Published 23 January, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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