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A recent study conducted by the Harris Poll exclusively for Ad Age shows that while most consumers believe that brands should distance themselves from controversial partnerships, consumer perspectives remain divided on key issues such as COVID-19 vaccinations.

When it comes to partnerships during the pandemic, there’s no right answer for brands.

Seven in 10 US adults agree that brands should distance themselves from controversial partnerships. However, the way consumers define controversial may vary – especially as it relates to COVID-19 vaccination status. The topic of vaccines has been challenging for many Americans to tackle with family, friends, and coworkers. Unsurprisingly, brands face similar challenges addressing vaccination status with their key celebrity partners.

Americans are divided in their attitudes toward celebrities and vaccinations. Fifty-two percent agree that they are disappointed by celebrities who have not gotten vaccinated against COVID-19. Forty-nine percent agree that celebrities have a responsibility to share their vaccination status with the public. Recently, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sparked controversy when he tested positive for COVID-19 and admitted to being unvaccinated after his previous statements led the public to believe otherwise.

The recent news surrounding Aaron Rodgers’ vaccination status got America’s attention, but there’s little consensus about how the NFL should’ve responded.

In August, Rodgers told reporters that he was “immunized.” However, he has not received any of the three approved COVID-19 vaccinations. Rodgers refused the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines due to a reported allergy and declined the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to potential side effects. Instead, Rodgers petitioned the NFL, the NFL Players Association, and an infectious disease expert to gain fully vaccinated status through an alternative treatment. His petition was denied. When Rodgers recently tested positive for COVID-19, the truth about his vaccination status went public. Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers were fined by the NFL for violating its COVID protocols for unvaccinated players.

Among those who were previously aware of Aaron Rodgers, 61% had heard about the news surrounding his vaccination status. This increased to 67% among those who were familiar with the athlete. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was higher among men than women (65% and 57%, respectively).

After being made aware of the controversy, 55% of US adults agreed with the NFL’s decision to fine Aaron Rodgers, and 52% agreed with the decision to fine the Green Bay Packers.

In both instances, support was higher among those who were previously aware of the controversy compared to those who were informed during the survey. Sixty-eight percent of those who were aware of the controversy supported the decision to fine Aaron Rodgers (vs 39% of those were previously unaware). Sixty-four percent of those who were aware of the controversy supported the decision to fine the Green Bay Packers (vs 39% of those who were previously unaware).

Though Americans said less often that they supported State Farm’s continued partnership with Aaron Rodgers, the expected impact to the brand is minimal.

In light of Rodgers’ vaccination controversy, Wisconsin-based health care company Prevea Health terminated its partnership with Rodgers. He had served as a spokesperson for the organization since 2012. In contrast, State Farm Insurance retained Rodgers as a spokesperson after the controversy broke. Rodgers has featured in many State Farm commercials throughout their partnership. Despite supporting COVID vaccination efforts, State Farm stated that they respected Rodgers’ right to maintain a “personal point of view” on COVID vaccinations, and to make a decision based on his personal circumstances.

In general, Americans were more likely to support Prevea Health’s decision to discontinue its partnership with the athlete compared to State Farm’s decision to continue its’ partnership. Forty-seven percent of US adults supported Prevea Health’s decision to terminate its partnership with Aaron Rodgers (21% opposed). In contrast, 38% of US adults supported State Farm’s decision to continue its partnership with Aaron Rodgers (26% opposed). Support among current State Farm customers was slightly higher – 47%.

Regardless of their opinions toward State Farm’s continued support for Aaron Rodgers, approximately half (52%) of US adults were neither more nor less likely to become a State Farm customer. Those remaining were divided as to whether they would be more or less likely to patronize the brand (26% and 22%, respectively).

Methodology: 

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Ad Age during November 12-15, among 1,033 US adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. For more information, please contact Dami Rosanwo or Madelyn Franz.

Download the full data tables here.

Matthew Feider

Author Matthew Feider

Matthew is the Chief of Staff of The Harris Poll. In addition to supporting the CEO Will Johnson, he leads the internal marketing team, investor relations, and executive communications. As the leader of the marketing department, Matthew has developed exclusive polling partnerships with Ad Age, AdWeek, Morning Brew, Fast Company, TIME, and Yahoo Finance. Prior to joining Harris last year, Matthew helped build the venture valuation business unit at Carta. He is currently an MBA candidate at The University of Chicago, Booth School of Business.

More posts by Matthew Feider
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