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OFF BEAT: State Farm not immune to criticism over celebrity pitchman

Posted On: Sep. 30, 2014 12:00 AM CST

Bagging a celebrity for an advertising campaign carries with it potential reward but also the risk of reputational damage, as U.S. insurer State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. recently learned.

The insurer this month dropped a TV campaign featuring Saturday Night Live veteran Rob Schneider after receiving criticism about the comedian’s anti-vaccination stance.

State Farm had signed up Mr. Schneider to star in a TV ad campaign reprising his Richmeister character from Saturday Night Live.

But online critics questioned how a company that provides health coverage — and promotes immunization as a way to prevent the spread of diseases — could employ a celebrity who has spoken out against mandatory vaccinations for children.

Mr. Schneider in 2012 spoke out against a California State Law – which came into force at the start of this year – that requires parents to obtain a physician’s signature if they wish to prevent their child from receiving vaccinations.

In response to online criticism, State Farm earlier this month said that the advertisement had “unintentionally been used a platform for discussion unrelated to the products and services we provide.”

As a result, a spokesman for the company said, the ad is being pulled from the company’s rotation.

Mr. Schneider took angrily to Twitter to slam State Farm’s move as a “cheap shot.”

He also thanked his supporters who, he said, “believe as I do that parents should decide what’s in the best interest of their child,” not government mandates.

Mr. Schneider defended his right to free speech, citing George Washington.

State Farm, meanwhile, likely will shift reputational risk higher up its own risk register.