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Are Sea Monkeys a Scam? Or Just Clever Marketing?
Sea monkeys are a great example of marketing genius (or evil marketing for some). Sea monkeys were "invented by" Harold von Braunhut in the 1950s. The eggs can survive for long periods of time without water. When added to water they soon hatch. Von Braunhut, a mail order marketer, saw an opportunity to market them as mail order pets.
"a BOWLFULL OF HAPPINESS—Instant PETS"
And it worked. Sea monkeys are still a popular children's product that are sold in Toys R Us and other toy stores. In addition to the initial kits, which come with sea monkey eggs, water purifier, food and a container, the company behind sea monkeys also sells additional food packets, vitamins, air pumps, toys and even a diploma "certifying you as a Sea-Monkey Scientist."
Not only that, sea monkeys have become a part of popular culture. The Pixies have a song about them called Palace Of The Brine. References have been made to them in shows like South Park, The Simpsons, Spin City and Desperate Housewives. Howie Mandel even appeared in a quickly canceled early 90's series called The Amazing Live Sea Monkeys.
What Are Sea Monkeys
Sea monkeys are a type of brine shrimp. These tiny crustaceans produce dormant eggs called cysts that can be stored for long periods of time before being hatched. They're commonly used as fish food. Many pet supply stores sell the shrimp in bulk for significantly less than the cost of a sea monkey kit. Hence the claim that sea monkeys are a scam.
The Marketing of Sea Monkeys
Marketing brine shrimp as pets might not have worked well. Renaming them sea monkeys and portraying them as human-like did. The sea monkeys marketed in comic books showed beings with bows on their heads who lived in palaces.
USA Today Pop Candy writer Whitney Matheson in her humorous article The Truth About Sea Monkeys joked:
"Contrary to this illustration, female sea-monkeys do not wear lipstick."
She went on to say:
"If you've ever seen a box of sea monkeys, you've probably seen the creatures illustrated as very human-like, wearing clothes and playing tennis and such. The truth is, sea-monkeys do none of this!"
What Are Sea Monkeys?
Do you think sea monkeys are a scam?
So, Are Sea Monkeys a Scam?
Clever marketing, yes. Deceptive, yes. Whether they're a scam or not probably depends on how people feel about marketing, especially to children. They are actually a lot of fun for kids. My daughter enjoyed hatching her sea monkeys. She also enjoys caring for them. We have a fish and realized we don't need to bother buying sea monkey food. They're thriving on fish food.
If you plan to get sea monkeys for your kids, prepare them in advance. They will imagine little monkeys in a bowl. Show them what they actually will get. You really don't need any of the extras that will be advertised in your sea monkey kit. It will be cheaper to buy food and purifier from a pet store.
Sea monkeys/brine shrimp are interesting to learn about. And they're a good lesson for children on the dishonesty of marketing and how marketers try to convince us to buy things. It's important for parents to teach their kids how the world really works.
Evan Hughes, in his article The Shocking True Tale Of The Mad Genius Who Invented Sea-Monkeys says:
"Von Braunhut had the knack for making facts go away. Look at the hands, lose sight of the feet. The man made a lot of us believe that we could see through clothes, that smiling underwater pets would arrive in the mailbox. He made us believe in invisible goldfish."
The Dark Side of Harold von Braunhut
Despite being Jewish, the late von Braunhut was a supporter of the Aryan Nation and Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Sadly, this probably wasn't hugely controversial to many people in the 1950s. However, his support for Nazism would have been. He said Hitler “just got bad press."
Palace of the Brine by The Pixies
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