Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It was...fun. Oh, my...

To paraphrase General Douglas MacArthur: "Old advertising mascots never die; they just fade away". The life of an advertising icon is an unpredictable one; some continue to live on as the indelible (somewhat racist) face of a national brand for well over a century, others are over used and worn out into total irreverence, while others flop right out of the gate into obscurity. Occasionally a mascot may get discontinued, only to find unexpected new life decades later. One thing mascots hardly ever do, however, is actually get killed.

It is an exceedingly rare and bold move on the part of a brand when they decide to go for the nuclear option of putting in the effort to deliberately and publicly eliminate their mascot in an advertisement. The only other example I can think of is the heroic death of Segata Sanshiro, the star of a series of brilliantly insane Sega Saturn ads in Japan from the late 90s that I would need to devote an entire entry to properly cover; he had by far the most epic death for an advertising mascot. I do recall the Budweiser frogs were the victims of an assassination attempt in 1997 by some vindictive Italian-American lizards and their hired ferret associate, which did leave one of them traumatized.

The public executing of a mascot is the ultimate expression on the company's part that they are going in a totally new direction and leaving the past completely behind. If a company takes the time and spends the money on a proper end for their character, I suppose it either means that they: (a) have grown to absolutely despise the character and want to be as public with their disapproval as possible or (b) have so much respect for the character that they want to give them the dignity of a big finale rather than just quietly phasing them out.

In the case of Priceline.com's decision this week to kill their longtime spokesman, the legendary William "The Negotiator" Shatner, it is definitely more the latter reason. Priceline, which somehow managed to survive the dot.com bubble and (to my continuing surprise) manages to thrive today as a travel website, has finally decided to drop its silly "name your price" feature, which never really worked that well, and has finally become a straight travel discount site like all the others. This end of the need for price negotiation obviously means the end of the "The Negotiator". It appears that the war had ended and apparently fixed prices have won.

So after 14 years of loyal, price slashing service from the quirky concert sets of the late 90s, to his epic showdown with Leonard Nemoy, to his latter day role as "The Negotiator " (with occasional help from the Big Deal), the people at Priceline decided give Shatner a final act on par with the passing of his other famous character. Looking at the two deaths there is an odd similarity between them. Both instances involved a large explosion on a vast cliff, a fearless act of heroism that saved many lives (and in the case of the commercial, also money), and a sort of symbolic passing of the torch to a new generation. As commercial mascot deaths go, I think it was a fine way to close the chapter and turn the page.

Farewell Negotiator, I hope you're in a better, more affordably priced place.

No comments:

Post a Comment