LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Fads, crazes and must-have toys sweep the country from time to time. Think of the Hula Hoop, the pogo stick or the Tamagotchi. One fad that came and went in the mid-'70s was the Pet Rock. It was exactly what it sounds like - a pet that was a rock. The man behind it was Gary Ross Dahl, and he died this week at the age of 78. Thinking of Mr. Dahl and his enormously popular Pet Rocks, we wondered why these fads and crazes catch on. Richard Gottlieb is the founder of the consulting firm Global Toy Experts. And he joins us from our studios in New York. Mr. Gottlieb, welcome.
RICHARD GOTTLIEB: Good morning.
WERTHEIMER: Let's just start with the Pet Rock. Who would've thought that you could sell a million-and-a-half rocks?
GOTTLIEB: Well, apparently, the gentleman who just died did. And he was extremely fortunate because it's one of those moments that are like lightning striking or an act of God. They just happen, and we're never really quite sure why.
WERTHEIMER: Do you think it's an American phenomenon to be so in love with silly things, or do you think that the timing has more to do with it than that?
GOTTLIEB: I think it happens other places, but I think it's really driven in America. And the fads I like the best are the ones like the Pet Rock, which are what I call populist fads. They're not manufactured; they're very sincere, and they're bottom-up.
WERTHEIMER: Do you feel confident that as a consultant on toys that you would know a good one when you saw it?
GOTTLIEB: I have spotted good ones. I've been right, I've been wrong. There are some people who really do seem to be better at this. There's a company called Moose Toys that has a product out right now called Shopkins. And it's a hot - it's a fad right now. And all it is is little, tiny, plastic versions of things you would buy in a shopping mall, but they have little faces on them.
WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) Like - I mean, like what?
GOTTLIEB: Like little coffee cups and a piece of food, like, you know, a piece of corn.
WERTHEIMER: Well, who - and who wants them - kids?
GOTTLIEB: Kids collect them like crazy. As a matter of fact, they've come out with their second set. And I think one of the reasons kids like products like that or like a product called Silly Bandz that came out - it was very popular three years ago - which was simply rubber bands in the shape of animals that you collected. It's because they're affordable. They don't cost a lot of money. And it starts on the playground social network. Somebody sees somebody who is cool with something like Silly Bandz and it takes off, and it just organically moves from city to city.
WERTHEIMER: So do you think that now that the big expensive toys, the ones that everybody wishes they could have - are interactive toys - do you think that these kinds of little momentary, kind of not all that interactive - they don't talk to you - kinds of things - are we done with that do you think?
GOTTLIEB: No. I think that these children today don't have that line of demarcation between what is real and what is virtual that we have. They live in a much bigger universe than we do. And so they don't feel we're doing them a favor if we give them an analog toy and we add some kind of, you know, Internet aspect to it. They expect it. But I think there's still always going to be room for the things that children love to do, which is collectability. They love to collect things. And inexpensive and something that they can own and is special to them and that they can relate to their friends around it.
WERTHEIMER: Mr. Gottlieb, thank you very much for talking to us.
GOTTLIEB: And thank you. It's really been a joy.
WERTHEIMER: Richard Gottlieb of Global Toy Experts.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M IN LOVE WITH MY PET ROCK")
AL BOLT: (Singing) I'm in love with my Pet Rock. What you don't know about don't knock. I'm in love with my Pet Rock...
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