To football fans, Aaron Rodgers is a top quarterback.
To fans and non-fans alike, Aaron Rodgers has been a commercial actor for an insurance company.
Now that he has been exposed as a conspiracy theorist, those things have a hard time lining up. And there’s a lesson in here for anyone who thinks that a celebrity endorsement will be a magic ticket to wide recognition and universal acclaim for your cause or your brand.
State Farm is the largest property and casualty insurance company in the country. Aaron Rodgers has been its public face for many years. State Farm spends extraordinarily to advertise during NFL games, which is the most-watched programming on TV. Sports media reporter Anthony Crupi estimates the company has spent nearly $50 million in NFL TV advertising so far this season. State Farm must now decide if a spokesman who embraces risk, even beyond playing professional football, is appropriate for their business. A Wisconsin-based health care company already decided that a similar 9-year relationship had to end.
This is important to keep front of mind for any organization on the hunt for a celebrity to carry its message. Speaking from experience, after serving on nonprofit boards for nearly 20 years, charities often envy those who are able to put celebrities out in front. “We need to find a celebrity” is a desperate cry heard in board meetings. Many corporations also aspire to similar relationships. This is a reminder that making a celebrity – namely one that is otherwise not otherwise involved in the organization – your face can often be a risky proposition.
In this case, State Farm, which does business with its policyholders via a network of independent local small business owners, ties its reputational fate to an individual who is not a part of its business. His primary job is to play football (while maintaining his celebrity), not to manage customer relationships. It’s easy to see how he would place his personal agenda over that of the company.
We have seen the same things with charities. Celebrities who are not historically involved with the nonprofit or personally impacted by its mission, yet enticed to endorse, often put their own interests ahead of the mission. Consequently, the endorsement is only as good as the star’s latest appearance on TMZ.
Even in our celebrity-obsessed culture, in every field, successful brands enjoy stellar reputations without celebrity endorsements. At a time like this, it’s a good opportunity to pay attention to who they are and how they do it.