In Part I of this series, we looked at how Hollywood celebrity and climate activist Oscar Isaac is featured in a multi-episode video series released by the electric performance car brand, Polestar. The videos use Isaac’s celebrity endorsement to delve into Polestar innovations, including the company’s self-described goals to “improve today’s society and that of the future.”
Now, in Part II, we’re going to zoom in more to examine the effect that celebrity has on product success in the world of sustainable mobility. Polestar isn’t alone — many automotive brands hire celebrities to endorse their products because they are powerful, influential, and famous. And they can provide the visibility for which the auto companies yearn.
The Car & the Celebrity: A Reciprocal Relationship
Advertising reflects the changing roles in society while also influencing attitudes about success and identity though the creation of new cultural images. Collectively, the advertisements cultivate the belief among consumers that by selecting a particular automobile, they can, by extension, achieve success in all aspects of their lives, from relationships to careers.
The influence of celebrity endorsement on brand passion is substantial. A celebrity endorsement can elevate an unknown product to levels of heightened visibility. When pop culture stars or famous athletes endorse a product, consumers transfer their respect or admiration for the celebrity to the product.
When deciding on the ideal celebrity endorsement, a car company must choose which public persona aligns most closely with a company’s image.
In 1966, NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain was featured in a commercial by VW trying as he tried to fit his 7-foot-1-inch frame inside a Volkswagen Beetle. He couldn’t squeeze into the compact, but he endeared himself to the audience.
From 2000 to 2009, Tiger Woods endorsed Buick when he was at the height of his popularity.
Land Rover alluded to the James Bond film phenomenon as it teamed with Daniel Craig for the debut of its 2014 Range Rover Sport.
Eminem was quite effective in 2016 for the Chrysler Super Bowl commercial, “Imported from Detroit.” Super Bowl commercials are sooooo brief, yet they’re the most expensive ads of the year and proven to support for brand-building, new directions, and generating buzz. It’s not uncommon for the commercials to get nearly as much attention as the football game they’re supporting.
Blake Griffin used Kia’s UVO technology to travel back in time and dispense words of wisdom to his younger self.
Matthew McConaughey has zipped along in a Lincoln MKC at high speeds on deserted roads while having an internal dialogue with himself.
J-Lo drove through the Bronx to promote Fiat’s 500.
The power couple Chrissy Teigen and John Legend were featured in the Hyundai Genesis 2020 Super Bowl commercial “Going Away” party.
EVs & Celebrity Endorsements
And now EV companies are following suit, using celebrity endorsements to elevate the visibility of their arrival in the world of sustainability. EV advertisers believe that endorsements work because celebrities garner attention from otherwise distracted or uninterested viewers, who then transfer their positive feelings for the celebrity to the brand.
Audi partnered with Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams singing Frozen’s “Let It Go” while driving an E-Tron Sportback — the debut of Audi having an electric vehicle entering the market.
Hyundai Motor Company’s IONIQ brand campaign video, “I’m in Charge,” shares insights of various thought leaders — fashion designer Maria Cornejo and British adventurer David de Rothschild — about their commitment to sustainable living. The video also invites eco-conscious consumers to take action and responsibility in the global fight against climate change.
GM drew upon its iconic Clydesdale horses to whet interest for its electric Hummer. The ad plays scenes depicting a herd of horses (1,000 hp), a high-performance motorcycle (0-60 mph in 3 seconds), and up-close views of reduction gears and tow chains (11,500 pound-feet of torque). A silent background accompanies all the commotion. Finally, a voice enters the scene. “A quiet revolution is coming. All electric, zero emissions, zero limits.”
Basketball star LeBron James was the star of another electric Hummer ad.
How Effective is Oscar Isaac in his Polestar Celebrity Endorsement?
During the Polestar “Switch” video, a question is posed on the screen:
“Will society adapt to a new electric age? That’s the question designers and urban planners are pondering as infrastructure evolves in smart cities like London.”
Persuasion is an activity that involves one party trying to induce another party to believe something or to do something. It is an important and multifaceted human facility. Obviously, sales and marketing is heavily dependent on persuasion.
Polestar is the most recent in a long line of automakers that have turned to celebrity to boost the visibility of their brand and to persuade potential EV buyers that their brand surpasses all others. In the press release that announced the “Make aNew” video series, Fredrika Klarén, head of sustainability at Polestar, was clear that “collaborating with visible activists like Oscar, who are as passionate about carbon-neutrality as we are, will help raise awareness and understanding, paving the path for a more sustainable future.”
Expertise, physical attractiveness, similarity, respect, and trustworthiness have a strong relationship with consumer transference from celebrity to product, and Isaac possesses all those qualities. People increasingly take their consumer cues from celebrities like Isaac, and why not? They’re beautiful, hang in exclusive circles, and are the focus of social network chatter. More than ever, celebrities are using their fame to stand up for causes as part of a civic obligation that accompanies fame.
At the end of the “Drive” video, Oscar Isaac notes that “this intricate balance of feeling connected and disconnected is crucial to our well-being today. The future is here.” In interviews previous to the video series’ release, Isaac remarked that Polestar has been open about how its cars are built and accountable for its impact on the planet. He notes that Polestar is also taking steps to offset the footprint of its vehicles.
“As the automotive world moves to electrification, important terms such as sustainability and clean energy are becoming generic slogans with diminished meaning,” he explained. “After learning about the company, I feel better about driving a Polestar because the brand is transparent about how its cars are produced, accountable for its impact on the planet, and taking action to truly offset the footprint of its vehicles.”
As an interviewer, Isaac seems genuine and interested. As an audience, we want to believe that he is a reliable source of information about the Polestar brand. Yet it’s been designed in an era of 2.0 social media to be strictly unidirectional persuasion, in which the persuader presents a message to the persuadee with the aim of persuading the persuadee, and there is no facility for the persuadee to respond to the message.
That gets us thinking: To what degree is this video series really just another example of reality visual production, or is Isaac authentic and spontaneous as he interacts with Polestar execs?
Understanding the Persuasion Behind the Polestar Video Series
Renee Hobbs of the Media Education Lab has recently released a paperback, Mind over Media, with an accompanying website. These texts help us to understand the techniques to which audiences respond through zooming in on intrinsic needs and values.
“Effective propaganda conveys messages, themes, and language that appeal directly, and many times exclusively, to specific and distinct groups within a population. Propagandists may appeal to you as a member of a family, or your racial or ethnic identity, or even your hobbies, your favorite celebrities, your beliefs and values, or even your personal aspirations and hopes for the future.
“Sometimes, universal values are activated, as when our deepest human values—the need to love and be loved, to feel a sense of belonging and a sense of place—are activated by propaganda. By creating messages that appeal directly to the needs, hopes, and fears of specific groups, propaganda becomes personal and relevant. When messages are personally relevant, people pay attention and absorb key information and ideas.”
Let’s break this definition apart and apply it to the Polestar “Make aNew” campaign.
- The Polestar branding appeals to a specific and distinct audience, even though Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath told Esquire that the company sees customers coming from all age brackets and backgrounds, sharing only the same inquisitive sensibility.
- The “sense of belonging” is an important feature of the Volvo owner, and Polestar was previously a performance division in 2017 Volvo and Geely segregated Polestar into its own entity. Yet Polestar still retains relationships with both of its parent companies.
- Polestar is reaching out “directly to the needs, hopes, and fears” of the EV audience, who, like Isaac, are interested in green products, clean technologies, and people with sustainable ideas that can be put into practice — all because these are the ways the world will transition to more sustainable modes of operation.
- Lack of education is a major barrier to electric vehicle (EV) adoption, research reveals, as gaps of information (34%) are a key barrier to EV adoption. Lots of people have very low awareness of EVs (18%) but also have a high appetite to find out more (59%). The Polestar videos are full of accessible information — alongside a good dose of celebrity attractiveness, which has a significant effect on consumer relatedness need satisfaction.
- Relevance is essential to attract and hold an EV audience. EVs are much cleaner and greener than gas and diesel vehicles, and the Polestar brand has taken the leap to analyze the sustainability of its supply chain. That’s another lure for a potential Polestar EV buyer.
- Connecting a favorite celebrity, audience beliefs and values, and personal aspirations and hopes for the future is evident within the “Make aNew” series. Consumers across a range of ideologies say that clean energy sources appeal to them.
So, yes, Isaac is sincere in his appreciation for the Polestar brand. The videos are also highly stylized and intensely produced messages intended to capture a luxury, racy EV audience. And they are very persuasive — 5 videos later, it’s clear that the Polestar brand is very appealing. Starting around $60,000, it competes with the Tesla Model S and X range of EVs.