Last night, Priceline (Nasdaq: PCLN) killed off William Shatner's Negotiator character in a ball of fire, the end of a long and prosperous partnership.

Shatner joined Priceline before the company's fabulously successful IPO, lasted through the dot-com crash, and was the face of the company's move further into the mainstream. He's one of a handful of people who are instantly identifiable with a brand, maybe more so than the work that made him famous in the first place.

While you watch this video I would like to observe a moment of silence in "The Negotiator's" honor.

You can't separate the icon from the brand
The link between an advertising icon and a brand has long been a tool used by Madison Avenue to create awareness of consumer products. Michael Jordan is the face of Hanes and Nike's Jordan brand. The Gecko is the face of Geico, so is Jared of Subway, and even Flo and Progressive are almost inseparable. That's what makes this so dangerous for Priceline.

E-Poll Research says that when customers see the name of the Priceline brand they think of "Shatner" just as often as they do "travel." If it can't replace him with something memorable, the company may lose customers to travel-discount competitors Orbitz Worldwide (NYSE: OWW) and Expedia (Nasdaq: EXPE)

A new age in online travel
The value of Shatner to Priceline is hard to define, but it may show in the market cap of the competitors in the travel space. Priceline has built a $25.8 billion market cap, which Orbitz and Expedia lag behind with $392 million and $4.6 billion market caps respectively. They don't have nearly the identifiable character as Priceline in advertising and this may just help level the playing field. 

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Fool contributor Travis Hoium does not have a position in any company mentioned. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Nike and priceline.com. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.