In Paul Breitenbach's world view, every day at priceline.com is the equivalent of "Let's Make a Deal."
Know your grocery prices? Name your price before heading out to the local supermarket. Don't like the car prices quoted by the local dealer or think airlines could do better on that ticket to Kansas City? Type in that bid.
With consumers playing Monty Hall and naming the price they're willing to pay for just about anything, Mr. Breitenbach places great faith in consumers' knowledge of pricing to fuel the growth of priceline.com.
It hasn't hurt that priceline's celebrity spokesman, William Shatner, turned out to be the perfect pitchman for this journey into unexplored cyberspace, nor that Mr. Breitenbach is credited with persuading the "Star Trek" captain that this was one voyage he couldn't turn down.
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"We launched our e-company by going directly to the broad mass market with radio and print," says Mr. Breitenbach, "and that was very controversial. Here we are, a new dot-com, and we weren't going to do online advertising. Online advertising's got a long way to go before it's a part of the [media] mix for me."
Priceline's campaign, with creative in-house and media placed by Ocean Media, Huntington Beach, Calif., has attracted more than 100 million U.S. adults to its site. Priceline brought on Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos, Boston, to produce a campaign that breaks this month. The site this year will spend about $50 million on advertising.
According to a survey by Princeton, N.J.-based Opinion Research, Web shoppers said their top three favorite places to save money on the Internet are Amazon.com, eBay and priceline.com. "We are the second most recognizable e-commerce brand behind Amazon.com," says Mr. Breitenbach.
He added that the company so far has sold more than 50,000 leisure fare airline tickets, a tenfold increase from sales at the end of 1998.
"We really see ourselves as serving two markets, the marketers who have unsold inventory and the consumer who wants to save money," says Mr. Breitenbach. "We're not going to serve one at the expense of the other."
He believes that consumers do pay attention to prices, whether it's a big ticket item such as a car or what they pay for a roll of toilet paper. "We're not after a niche consumer. We're a mass market product."
Copyright November 1999, Crain Communications Inc.