Toshiba Apologizes for "Test Monkey" Ads

A Toshiba ad for the Satellite Ultrabook computer pokes fun of people who participate in clinical trials. The ad claims that Toshiba, unlike other "tech companies," fully tests products and doesn't treat "paying customers like test monkeys." With a similar message, a print ad features a cosmetics tester.

Toshiba_print_adThe ads riled clinical researchers, who struggle to find participants in medical trials. In fact, Toshiba's own medical systems group is currently looking for young people to participate in a trial.

A sokesperson for the Association of Clinical Research Organizations (ACRO) explained the group's concern: "It's dangerous. We don't need any more reasons to discourage people from research. We need to encourage people and not portray them as some kind of freak."

According to PR Daily, "The ad does seem to contradict parts of Toshiba's corporate social responsibility guidelines. According to its standards of conduct for advertising, Toshiba group directors and employees should 'not use advertising to cast third parities in a negative light, in an attempt to make Toshiba Group appear more favorable, or for any other negative purpose.'"

In response to ACRO's criticism, Toshiba's director of marketing communications sent this response:

"Dear Mr. Peddicord,

"Thank you so much for raising your concerns over one of Toshiba's new television commercials showing people in medical testing situations.
"Our intent was not to minimize the value of clinical research or insult people participating in clinical trials.
"We will absolutely take your objections into consideration as we develop future advertising."

So far, the company has not pulled the ads, which ACRO had requested.

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your interpretation of ACRO's complaint? Is the group right, overreacting, or something in between?
  • Looking at Toshiba's standards of conduct for advertising, do you believe the company violated its own standards?
  • If you led Toshiba's marketing communications group, would you pull the ads? Why or why not?