Polestar’s top North American executive Gregor Hembrough knows a thing or two about marketing.
He joined Polestar five years ago from Volvo Cars USA, where his 18-plus years included six years as sales and marketing manager.
The two brands have been intertwined since 2015, when Polestar Racing was acquired by Volvo. Both brands are owned by Geely Holding, a Chinese company.
Hembrough, whose official title is head of Polestar North America, sat down last week to talk about the electric vehicle company, which he playfully refers to as 97-year-old start-up brand.
DriveTime: How did you end up advertising on the Super Bowl in 2022?
Hembrough: That was a turning point for us. I mean, that evening really brought Polestar from a brand that was really known by enthusiasts and those that follow the EV segment into everybody's living room. And we saw brand awareness grow dramatically that evening, and it did exactly what we needed to do. It was the most recalled commercial of the Super Bowl. What an accolade!
DriveTime: Where do you go from there?
Hembrough: Since then we've had to continue the momentum and building brand awareness specifically around EV. And it's incredibly challenging.
When we launched during the Super Bowl, the EV competition was relatively limited. It was us and Tesla, so to speak.
DriveTime: How do you stand out in the increasingly crowded EV marketplace?
Hembrough: The legacy automotive manufacturers now continue to come on extremely strong with their own EVs. They have a strong customer base already, and when customers are looking for an EV, there's a familiarity with the dealership they have dealt with and with the brand that they have already fallen in love with. Forty percent of new car sales come from existing customers.
So we really, really have to punch above our weight and we have to be extremely clever about how do we actually go to market. So we're going with a multi-pronged approach and a couple of things that we've had to adapt for the North American marketplace.
DriveTime: What’s your approach to doing that?
Hembrough: One of the things I'd like to say is global is possible, local is necessary. I think that really is a hallmark for premium brand, whether you're in Sweden or whether you're in southern California.
Polestar has the same design, technology, sustainability. But with that being said, we've also got to take a little bit of adaptation to the way the Americans and the Canadians consume their media. And that's both in where we advertise and how we advertise.
So we've done a couple of things. Most recently is adding voiceovers for our commercials with American accents. And what we've seen clearly is that the recognition and the recall and the consideration has risen dramatically from commercials — the same creative with no voiceover specifically.
Also, we've been very unique about bookending the commercials so now we start off with Polestar and we end with Polestar, and that's when you have a brand that has 6% to 7% brand recognition in the total automotive industry and 16% within the EV segment.
DriveTime: How do you improve on those numbers?
Hembrough: We still have a long way to go. So there's a lot of things that we're doing from a creative point of view to make sure that we call out product features, that we call out the 100% electric.
We tell the customer what brand it is before the ad begins — which is unique in the automotive industry — and then at the same time remind them what they just saw at the end of it. And then also having a very attractive and competitive offer at the end of that as well.
DriveTime: What types of media have you found work best?
Hembrough: We have traditionally been looking at above-the-line media.
So local TV continues to be something when you're a brand that has to get the message out there, that we have to be at. But then we go into a very targeted approach with below-the-line media campaigns, so retargeting through Hulu, YouTube tv, and then on a very heavy dose of CRM at the same time period as well as out-of-home. And experiential plays a very large role within our marketing.
DriveTime: Do you have to take a different approach with American consumers?
Hembrough: One of the things that we're looking at right now, specifically from an American customer, is how do we also personify the brand a little bit more with people? We've had a very design-oriented campaign since we began, and one of the things that we're also witnessing with the North American customers is they would like to see it a little contextual. Can I see some people in there? And you'll start to see that in our forthcoming creative as well.
DriveTime: So will you be on the Super Bowl again?
Hembrough: It's always on the wishlist. We always look at it every year. I think it's all comes down to is what product is there, what do we want to talk about and spending that much money, can it be done in a different way?
We looked at it in 2023. At that point, it just didn't make sense for us. 2024? Again, it's something that we're eyes wide open on. We're open to it.