Monkey Sea, Monkey Buy

Bruce McArthur Bleidner, Gifts, Marketing

In the spirit of consumer protection, and as a paean to the power of great marketing, VMG offers this review of the famed Sea Monkeys (world’s only instant pets!), a toy that has been wowing kids — like a fistful of Nembutal — for 50 years.

Somehow, the Sea Monkeys entered our home as gift for my 7 year-old. The box alone is a marvel of packaging brilliance. There’s a cornucopia of fun-filled stuff right there in its own window. Who could resist a “magic portal,” a “sea monkey pencil topper” and  instant “live eggs” (as opposed to the slower-acting dead variety.) Why, they even include an “aqua leash,” probably so you can walk these crazy guys to show and tell at school!

When you open the package and view the “illustrated instructions!” it gets even better. Look, those aren’t like some stupid goldfish, these babies sing and dance and put on a show! Oh boy!

Of course, there’s just a smidge of hyperbole mixed in with the growth food. And there’s some fine print, too, as on the vintage comic book ad which stated very clearly, using the ichthyologist’s Latin — which every 7 year old understands — “Caricatures shown not intended to depict Artemia Salina.” Hmm. They look like underwater Jetsons. That mommy sea monkey is weirdly sexy with her Nicki Minaj hips and generous lips. And look, the daddy sea monkey’s tail covers his privates. Who are the Artemia Salinas?

They are brine shrimp. Which, with proper care and feeding, may grow to a size of .6 inch. And actually look like this:

It’s been 10 days since my kids tore open the Sea-Monkey package and followed the illustrated instructions! to the letter, I’m sure. Using the magic portal magnifying lens, we think we saw some microscopic life- form moving in the palm-sized aquarium, but it could just be some crud from the Los Angeles water system. Oh, and that AAA battery-powered light that projects the fabulous singing, dancing and acrobatic Family Artemia Salinas on the wall… doesn’t work.

There’s a fascinating back story about the person who invented sea monkeys. Allegations of being mixed up with neo-Nazis and such. Whatever his true history, which seems to be as murky as the sludge in the aquarium, the guy was an absolute marketing genius. He created a product, targeted an audience and got very wealthy.

Since 1962, the only thing that’s really changed is the price – what was once a buck is now $19.95. And, as their website indicates, it’s selling globally. They even have line extensions, with all kinds of products to enhance your Sea Monkey experience. The Banana Treat caught our eye because of its blatant prurient appeal.

This one is even sexier… Cupid’s Arrow Sea Monkey Mating Powder. Looks like Mama Monkey with the Nicki Minaj booty needs some help getting dad to notice her. Sprinkle a little mating powder in the tank and… hey gang, wanna watch my Sea Monkeys F*** ?

It’s all well below kid radar, but obvious enough to give mom and dad a reason to buy.

In a world of i-pods and pads and Wii and endless other digital toys that have billion dollar R&D budgets, these guys scoop some free gunk from the ocean and retail it for $20 bucks a box.

Steve Jobs, “marketing genius,” had absolutely nothing on the Sea Monkey guy. Nothing.

LARRY BLEIDNER