As the Centers for Disease Control appears to be scrambling to figure out how to handle Ebola in the United States, Americans learn more and more about a deadly virus most had probably never heard of a month ago.
Next come the commercial ventures: New vaccines. Protective equipment. Plush toys.
Yes, you read that right. An Ebola plush toy.
In what some may be tempted to call the least tasteful advertising campaign in the history of marketing, a website called Giant Microbes, which promotes "learning & fun," is selling an Ebola plush toy for $9.95. "Since its discovery in 1976, Ebola has become the T. Rex of microbes," reads the product write-up. "Share the love!"
Giant Microbes has been around for a long time, known for selling plush toys representing everything from HIV to botulism. As for the Ebola toy, "We are currently out of stock worldwide," said Laura Sullivan, vice president of marketing for Giant Microbes. "We have continued to sell out a number of times over the last couple of months."
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On the one hand, the company's desire to teach kids about germs via "microbes with personality" sounds like a fantastic idea. On the other hand, cheekily calling a stuffed Ebola "A uniquely contagious gag gift" while people are dying seems, well, unseemly.
"I think you're absolutely right," said Sullivan about "humor which seems off color." However, she said most of her sales are going to medical institutions and schools to use the toy for educational purposes.
She said the Ebola plush toy comes with "a rather robust hang tag," full of educational information. "It's not like our herpes toy which is often a gag gift ... a guy wants to give his girlfriend herpes."
Did Giant Microbes consider pulling the Ebola toy or changing the marketing given the current situation? No. Sullivan said customers have been calling wondering when the toy will be back in stock. "We're getting more next week," she said.