William Shatner talks electric bikes, climate change and a forgotten scar
Once upon a time, William Shatner zoomed the galaxy on the USS Enterprise.
These days, his ride is an electric bike.
The 87-year-old Canadian actor is the new pitchman for Pedego Electric Bikes, which just launched a new campaign in which Shatner rides his bike with a gospel choir and gets a man who is in the middle of a proctology exam to join him for a bike ride. The brand worked with creative agency BPG on the campaign.
Shatner talked to Ad Age via phone about his own bike experiences and what he'd love as his next pitchman gig. Our conversation has been lightly edited.
Where are you today? Are you in L.A.?
I'm on a bicycle.
That's very on-brand of you.
I'm double tasking here. I'm in Los Angeles.
Well, you make it look so easy. They say you're a long-time user of these bikes.
I've been riding Pedegos for awhile now. It's a bicycle which you pedal and do all the things you would on a bike. It's a little heavier because it has a battery. The huge difference is … a lot of people like myself say, 'What a great day for a bike ride!' and you go out and bike ride and suddenly you're some distance from where you originated from and you realize you've got to get back. And now it's no longer fun, now it's like a struggle.
Whereas all you need to do is hit this little switch, turn the electrical component on, and either you want to pedal and it will assist you pedaling, or you just sit back and ride it like a little motorcycle.
What it did was take our whole family, the immediate family is about 15 people, and the youngsters who were running all around the place with their bikes, and the older people who are a little bit more sedate and tire a little more quickly, everybody can ride together because everyone keeps up with the others. There's no problems. All 15 of us have been riding for quite some time now. It's a great family outing.
It's like a biker gang. But a pretty wholesome-sounding biker gang.
It's all of those.
You did a cross-country motorcycle trip recently.
I've got to tell you that riding a motorcycle on the highway is very dangerous. Part of the thrill of riding from Chicago to Los Angeles was the fact that you knew your life was in jeopardy to one degree or another. Living with that potential of dying immediately, which you could on a motorcycle, came the pure appreciation of life. I had cameras; I made a documentary of it called "The Ride." And part of "The Ride" is this concept that riding with some jeopardy on the bike on a freeway, on a busy highway -- that jeopardy makes you pay attention to the joy of life. I'm shooting this documentary and I'm wired for sound and the bike is wired for sound and I'm directing it, so I'm very much aware of where the cameras are. It was a beautiful morning out on the prairie. And we're driving along at 6, 7 o'clock in the morning. And I said something to the effect of what I just said, only more eloquently.
I said something like, 'I'm drunk with the joy of life and the pleasures of my senses, of what I'm smelling and what I'm feeling and what I'm touching and what I'm thinking.' That soliloquy was drowned out by the wind and I tried to repeat it a couple times freeform. It's not as good as when you're really feeling it. I feel the same way about a bike. It's a whole sensory experience.
Do you remember your first experience with a bike?
I have a cut on my hand. I believe I got [it from] a bike that my father and I lifted from the car. It was upside down and when it's turned upright, the fenders come down. You hold it up, you've got the rubber of the tire. But if you turn it rightside up, the fenders, they come into position, and that cut my hand. The bottom of my palm. I'm looking at the scar. There's a flap there — I must have pressed in and tried to forget about it — that is a scar from my first bike. And I have never talked about that, ever.
Because of your question I remember that. And I have it really locked in my mind, on a warmish day in Montreal. This new bike turns upside down, and suddenly my hand is bleeding profusely.
It's the same hand that has a scar on it on my wrist, where I punched the same hand into a window, which was first base when I was playing baseball on the street.
So that's my left hand.
Do you have a favorite ad?
There have been some great ads. Priceline. The "Negotiator" was a great ad. Was a great marketing ploy. Went on for all of those years because, as they say, it moved the needle. Funny, memorable, people talk about them still. I mean, how many ads in the advertising age can you point to? 'Where's the [Beef]?' comes to mind. Some of those great beer ads with the horses in the Super Bowl. But Priceline! As well as anybody, that "Negotiator" campaign was as good as any advertising campaign, and look what it did for Priceline.
So do you get really into the Super Bowl ads?
The ads are works of art, those who have tried are works of art. Those horses, Budweiser's Clydesdales, I know the trainer, Tommie Turvey, who trained those horses. They're brilliant. Brilliant stuff, the use of the horses and the import, the weight, literally and figuratively, that the horses bring to it.
So you've done the Priceline spots, you've done the Pedego ads…
Pedego has made three lovely commercials for their bikes. They're filled with humor, you get the message. It's joyful. A lot of times, the ad will ring a bell, will enter your consciousness, but it's so good you don't remember the product. The other part of that is to remember the product.
I think I'll have a hard time forgetting the proctologist one (which shows a man's rear end as he leaves his appointment aboard an electric bike).
The proctologist one is great. With his little asshole showing as you see him from the rear end. I mean, that's cuter than a button.
Who else would you love to be a spokesman for?
Climate change [awareness]. It's going to redefine how we live in the world in the next few years. We're all burying our heads over it. What we need is a magnificent campaign which highlights the fact that none of us are doing any real thing about it. Governments aren't doing any real thing about it. Individuals are. But governments, and especially ours — they're condemning us to death. To death by drowning or by storm or by starvation.
We're in the midst of a great change. And we don't hear enough conversation about what's going to happen to civilization within some of the younger people's lifetimes. We need an ad campaign, like Priceline, like the others. Like the Clydesdales. We need an ad campaign … it's got to say, 'We have reached the tipping point. We've got to get the carbon dioxide out of the air. We've got to stop all this stupidity. We've got to go to electric bikes.'
It's crazy. It is insane. There is an insanity based on our inability to face the terrible truth.