Priceline juices ad budget behind new Shatner push

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The world has changed a lot since Priceline started disrupting the hotel market two decades ago. Now it's the one being disrupted as parent Booking Holdings—and competitors such as Expedia—get squeezed by Google and Airbnb. So Priceline is spending more on direct-to-consumer advertising in order to stay top of mind with travelers, who are increasingly turning to Google as a viable planning source.

Part of that outlay will go to a new campaign to support its "Tweniversary" with longtime spokesman William Shatner, offering 20 days of savings it expects to total $50 million for consumers.

In a 30-second ad, Shatner eats a cake shaped like a phone that was hidden inside a larger cake that was hidden (with him) inside a very large cake. (It's all very dessert heavy.) The commercial will air nationally beginning on Monday and the campaign will also air on digital channels, including Google. The discount deals will last from April 30 through May 19.

Priceline worked on the creative with BBDO, which has been an agency partner since 2015. The travel site tapped Ocean Media as well.

Last year, Booking spent $392 million on brand advertising—a 32 percent increase over 2016, according to company financials. The company does not break out the spend by brand for Priceline, however Ben Harrell, senior VP brand and digital marketing at the brand, says there is a boost in the budget. "We are always trying to reach as many customers as possible and in as efficient a way as possible," he says. "We are always trying to advertise more."

The brand has also been tweaking its deal offerings. It eliminated its well-known "Name Your Price" feature for rental cars earlier this year, after axing it for flights two years ago. Consumers can still name a price for hotels, however. Harrell says the replacement feature, "Express Deals" has a better mobile experience and has seen good user growth.

For the fourth quarter of 2017, Booking reported revenue of $2.8 billion, a 21 percent rise over the year-earlier period, along with a net loss of $555 million—attributed to an income tax expense.

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