Aaron Rodgers throws touchdowns seemingly with ease. But this week he’s throwing State Farm for a loop.
The auto insurance company was poised to have Rodgers and Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes—two of its most recognizable pitchmen—match up on Sunday night in what many have dubbed the “State Farm Bowl.” Those plans are now off the table, since the Green Bay Packers quarterback tested positive for coronavirus and will be out until at least next week per NFL COVID protocols.
The turn of events comes at a bad time for State Farm. The company on Thursday launched a new scavenger hunt-like marketing campaign centered around the former MVPs, which is set to run through Sunday. In the company’s first splash into NFTs, fans who participate in the augmented-reality experience can also win Rodgers and Mahomes autographed apparel and merchandise.
State Farm declined to say if this week’s major marketing push was altered but issued a statement: “First, we wish Aaron a quick recovery. [The] announcement will not impact our marketing activation. We will still host our first-ever virtual football find.”
The show must go on, apparently.
But perhaps the bigger question is how the company pivots from here. Rodgers, who admitted to being unvaccinated, is under fire. This creates a less than ideal situation, forcing a company that offers life insurance to navigate having an unvaccinated celebrity as one of its most influential ambassadors.
Rodgers defended his decision to not be vaccinated and denied any wrongdoing or deception during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show on Friday afternoon.
“I’m not some sort of anti-vax, flat earther,” he said. “I’m somebody who’s a critical thinker. I march to the beat of my own drum. I believe strongly in bodily autonomy…. And not to have to acquiesce to some woke culture or some crazed group of individuals.”
“I’m not an anti-vaxx, flat-earther.. I have an allergy to an ingredient that’s in the mRNA vaccines. I found a long term immunization protocol to protect myself & I’m very proud of the research that went into that” ~@AaronRodgers12#PatMcAfeeShowLIVE pic.twitter.com/FDMmI5rZmO
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) November 5, 2021
Former Subway global chief marketing officer Tony Pace says it would be unwise for State Farm to sweep the issue under the rug and not address it.
“You have to be authentic; something definitely happened here,” said Pace, who is now the principal at Cerebral Graffiti, a marketing consulting firm. “It would undermine the brand’s credibility by acting like something didn’t happen.”
State Farm has already received backlash, including on social media, with some customers threatening to drop their coverage if Rodgers continues to represent the company. The future Hall-of-Famer, who guest hosted Jeopardy! in April, recently appeared in a new State Farm commercial earlier this season.
Another aspect of the conundrum: The brand could potentially see more engagement from NFL fans, since Rodgers’ absence is one of the week’s top sports stories.
Rodgers joined the brand as a spokesman in 2011. Mahomes came on in 2019 and started joining the veteran endorser in commercials soon thereafter. The two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks haven’t faced each other before; Mahomes was out with a knee injury when the Chiefs fell to the Packers 31-24 in 2019.
It’s unclear when the next “State Farm Bowl” opportunity will arise. The Chiefs haven’t looked like playoff contenders, and Rodgers’ future with the Packers remains uncertain beyond this season. In the meantime, State Farm must figure out how to move forward with Mr. Discount Double Check.
(The story was updated to reflect public comments Rodgers made Friday afternoon.)