Who would have ever thought that something you could find anytime you walked out of your front door could be become a million dollar bestseller. It wasn’t something like diamonds or gold; it was a common, ordinary rock.
The year was 1975, and for only $3.95, you could buy the craze of the time–the Pet Rock–a plain, round rock that a person could find on the ground if they just looked for it. It was the brainchild of Gary Dahl, an advertising copywriter who initially considered it to be a joke. That was until he discovered it could become something more.
An Idea is Born
Dahl came up with the idea in a bar in Los Gatos, California. He was basically broke, and when the discussion in the bar turned to the chores involved with cleaning up the mess pets made, Dahl joked that he had a “pet rock” and didn’t have that problem. He even ran with the idea and developed a manual over a two week period of time on how to care and train his pet rock as well as how to make it do tricks.
Something triggered Dahl to develop his pet rock past just a gag. He got the assistance of two investors and bought smooth stones from a hardware store that were from Rosarito Beach, Mexico on the Baja Pensisula. The rocks cost about a penny apiece. Now that Dahl had his rocks, he needed packaging, and this was where a brilliant piece of marketing began. The Pet Rock came with its own cardboard box case, sat on a bed of wood slivers called excelsior, and the box even had air holes to allow the “pet” to breath. Dahl’s “The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock” came in the packaging to explain what to do with the owner’s new rock pet.
The Pet Rock became a massive hit which was fueled by newspaper and magazine articles and appearances on The Tonight Show. It was in stores in time for Christmas in 1975, and an amazing 1.5 million Pet Rocks were sold, making Dahl a millionaire. But the time for the hit product was short-lived. Dahl had trademarked the Pet Rock name but it didn’t stop imitators from jumping on the Pet Rock bandwagon. Others began selling their own “Pet Rocks” even though Dahl got nothing from them.
After the Fad Ended
As with so many things that make a lot of money in a short period of time, lawsuits followed in the late 1970s by Dahl’s original investors who claimed they hadn’t received a large enough share of the profits from the Pet Rock. A court agreed, and Dahl had to pay a six-figure settlement to them.
Dahl later tried to come up with another idea to rival the Pet Rock called the Original Sand Breeding Kit. The idea was for owners to grow their own desert, but it didn’t come close to the craze of the Pet Rock. Dahl eventually returned to advertising, and in 2001, wrote the book, “Advertising for Dummies”. The man that came up with producing a rock craze passed away at the age of 78 in 2015.