State Farm hires, then drops The Richmeister. No more antivaccine copies—for now

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I’m a State Farm customer. I have been for a very long time. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s inertia or the discounts that State Farm gives me because I’ve been with the company for so long. On the other had, I’ve had no complaints. State Farm’s service has been fine, and on the couple of occasions I had to make a claim the company didn’t jerk me around. Even better, it didn’t raise my rates because of it. So I had no plans to change my home or auto insurance to another company. At least, such was the case until I saw this:

Yes, that’s Rob Schneider reprising his role as Richard Laymer, better known as the “The Richmeister” or the “Makin’ Copies” guy, from his time on Saturday Night Live in the 1990s. It’s a seemingly innocuous enough commercial, not particularly funny but not offensive. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Rob Schneider himself. In fact, over the last couple of years, Schneider has been a not infrequent topic of this very blog for his very vocal antivaccine proclivities and political activism.

Schneider first came to my attention two years ago, when he made his antivaccine views nationally known through his opposition to California Bill AB 2109. AB 2109, as you recall, was a bill, eventually passed into law, that made it more difficult for parents to obtain a philosophical exemption for their children for school vaccine mandates. Basically, all the bill required was that parents had to see a health care professional to have him or her sign a form, in essence, acknowledging having received informed consent before opting their children out of vaccination requirements. It was a good idea, designed to address a deficiency in California law that allowed parents just to sign a piece of paper to opt out of vaccines. Basically, it was easier to opt out with a philosophical exemption than it was to fulfill vaccination requirements, which was thought to lead some parents who weren’t antivaccine to “take the easy way out” and simply sign the form to get their kids in school when they hadn’t gotten around to getting them vaccinated. AB 2109 was proposed as a means to stop that practice and to persuade fence sitters that vaccines had benefits.

Unfortunately, the bill was amended to allow naturopaths to be among the health care professionals. Then when he signed the bill into law Governor Jerry Brown watered it down with a signing statement in which he instructed the Department of Public Health to allow for a separate religious exemption that didn’t require a health care professional to sign the form. I still can’t figure out how he got away with that, because there was no provision for such a separate exemption in the bill. Brown’s instructions clearly went counter to the intent of the legislature. How they weren’t illegal, I have no idea. Of course, I’m not a lawyer, but I do know that the result of Brown’s cowardice—yes, cowardice—was a profound betrayal of the children of California. We’re seeing the results of Brown’s irresponsibility in the continued high rate of personal belief exemptions in a number of pockets in California, particularly southern California, as documented in, of all places, The Hollywood Reporter. Not surprisingly, the further result is continued outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases facilitated by areas of low vaccine uptake. By watering down AB 2109, Brown guaranteed that it would do virtually nothing to reverse this trend, and, disappointingly, it hasn’t.

Scheider, of course, was one of the most vocal celebrity opponents of AB 2109, laying down some major and historically ignorant analogies in the process:

After that battle was seemingly lost by antivaccinationists (although Brown fixed that), he moved on to become more active with the antivaccine Canary Party, which is well-known to readers of this blog, which led me to wonder if he was auditioning to take over Jenny McCarthy’s job as the world’s most famous (and dumbest) celebrity antivaccinationist. Certainly his video with the Canary Party about a year ago that laid down all sorts of misinformation about the Vaccine Court was as brain dead ignorant as anything Jenny McCarthy has ever produced. (Well, maybe not quite.) In any case, most recently there was little doubt that Schneider’s antivaccine conspiracy mongering went deep into Alex Jones territory, as he bought the “CDC whistleblowermanufactroversy hook, line, and sinker.

So you can imagine my chagrin (and that of a lot of other pro-science activists) when Rob Schneider was seen starring in commercials for State Farm. Personally, I was rather late to the party in that I heard about it, but before I could blog about it I learned that State Farm had dropped Scheider from its commercial campaign:

A social media campaign called for the insurance company to ditch the ad

State Farm Insurance will no longer run a television advertisement starring Rob Schneider because of the actor’s anti-vaccination views. The move comes after a social media campaign called for Schneider to be dropped as a spokesperson.

Phil Supple, the insurance company’s director of public affairs, told PR Week, “[Schneider’s] ad has unintentionally been used as a platform for discussion unrelated to the products and services we provide,” he said. “With that, we are working to remove the ad from our rotation at this time.”

Representatives for both Schneider and State Farm have not yet responded to TheWrap‘s request for comment.

Thanks to pro-science parody accounts like Food Hunk, Science Babe, and Chow Babe, with posts like this:

There was a prolonged campaign on Twitter and Facebook, as described by Chow Babe. Basically, the #DropRobScheider hashtag, among others, was used to promote messages critical of State Farm’s decision to hire Rob Schneider, although what I saw more was just a whole lot of Tweets critical of State Farm. The end result was that the ads featuring Rob Schneider were dropped by State Farm. They’re taking them out of the rotation of ads made for this new ad campaign featuring old SNL characters.

Predictably, the result is that antivaccine loons went absolutely berserk. For example:

Meanwhile, there have been lots of boycott threats:

In a way, I’m glad I waited a few days after hearing rumblings of State Farm having unleashed The Richmeister on an unsuspecting public, because the outcome allows some observations. First, Schneider is determining that his antivaccine activism has consequences. Now, having had people come after me at work for my science advocacy and criticism of quackery and antivaccination views, I’m very sensitive to the concern I’ve seen expressed that this campaign was misguided. I might even have agreed if people were trying to prevent Schneider from getting gigs doing standup, a movie, or TV show. For instance, even though Mayim Balik is a bona fide antivaccine loon and “holistic mom,” I have no desire to see anyone try to get her fired from her gig on Big Bang Theory, which is strictly to play a role on a sitcom. Although I was not happy to see Jenny McCarthy get a high profile gig on The View, I wasn’t calling for her dismissal. She didn’t last too long, either, having been fired after only one season, but it all had nothing to do with vaccines.

This, however, is different. Companies can choose whomever they wish to represent themselves, to be their public face, but they also should be made aware when they have made a mistake and chosen someone who actually is harmful to their image and business. State Farm is an insurance company. One of its product lines is health insurance. It is incompatible with its business and contrary to the company’s mission to feature a vocal antivaccine advocate as one of its spokespersons, particularly given how much misinformation Schneider spreads. It’s one thing to go after a private individual at his or her job, as antivaccinationists have done to people like Dorit Reiss and, yes, me. Someone hired specifically to do an ad campaign to sell a company’s product when part of that product is diametrically opposed to what that person normally promotes, as was the case with Rob Schneider and State Farm? That’s a different matter.

If Schneider had been hired to hawk beer, a car, a computer, a headphone, or, yes, a copy machine, I doubt that anyone would have much cared or said much of anything. Even after Jenny McCarthy was hired for The View, I don’t recall there being much, if any, effort to get her recalled. Even in this case, in a statement by Chow Babe after State Farm made its announcement, the main thrust of the effort started by the Chow Babe community and the other “hunk” and “babe” parodies of the Food Babe was not to get start a boycott of Schneider or State Farm, but rather this:

Our best expected outcome when this campaign was launched simultaneously in all groups on Friday morning, Sept. 19, 10am EST, (2pm GMT,) was for Mr. Schneider to publicly state that his opinions are just that—opinions, and to always trust your primary care physician when it comes to matters of your health. Instead, Mr. Schneider tweeted a link hours later to an 18-month-old interview with a Canadian magazine that promotes “natural” health solutions. In the article, he states the U.S. vaccination program is a human rights issue, where, despite the mass of scientific consensus and empirical evidence, that somehow vaccines are not responsible for the eradication of some of the worst contagious diseases. Additionally, he continues with the concept of “vaccine injured,” a belief with no evidential acknowledgment by the mainstream medical community.

And this:

Our next best expected outcome was that State Farm would announce that Mr. Schneider was simply an actor portraying a character who raises awareness of their services, and as such, his personal opinions about vaccination is not necessarily theirs.

I must admit, though, that the above statement sounds rather disingenuous given the release of this video on September 19, which explicitly called on viewers to hit State Farm’s social media and for customers to call State Farm agents and tell the company that an antivaccine loon like Rob Schneider should not be representing their company, which is a perfectly acceptable message that those who started this campaign seem to want to disavow now:

This video sure comes across as calling for State Farm to pull Schneider’s ads, no mention of State Farm or Rob Schneider just issuing a statement. Chow Babe et al should just own their message and be straight that that’s what they wanted. There’s nothing wrong with protesting when a company chooses a star to do an advertising campaign when that star’s activism runs counter to the company’s products and image. State Farm screwed up, and there’s nothing wrong with pointing that out and asking the company to fix its mistake.

Obviously, State Farm understood the campaign as wanting it to drop Rob Schneider. So it went one better than just disavowing Schneider as an actor hired to sell their services whose opinions are not necessarily the company’s and dropped the ad campaign. This wasn’t one of the group’s best expected outcomes (mainly because of the collateral damage to others who did the commercial with Schneider, who would not get residuals), but it was a powerful message that companies selling health care products like health insurance should be careful not to use actors whose central message is anti-vaccine and thus inimical to health promotion. I guess I’ll be sticking with State Farm after all. And Schneider, despite his relative lack of discernable talent, will probably do just fine as a performer as long as no company having anything to do with health and wellness makes such an epic failure of due diligence as to hire someone like Rob Schneider to be their public face. I mean seriously. Can’t State Farm Google? Schneider’s antivaccine stance is described in his Wikipedia entry!

If another similar company makes the same mistake, I’m sure it will be reminded.