The Pet Rock was more than a gag or fad it was a brilliant marketing strategy
By Andrew Spriegel
January 16, 2011
Nothing is as easy or as simple as it seems. How times have you heard someone say “A guy made millions selling pet rocks.”
Marketing, Marketing and More Marketing
In inventing, retail and service businesses, success or failure often depends on marketing.
Gary Dahl, a Los Gatos, California advertising professional was in a bar in 1975 with his friends who were complaining about their pets. Dahl, as a joke told his friends that he considered dogs, cats, birds, and fish messy, not well-behaved and they cost too much money, he had a pet rock. His “pet” was clean, well-mannered, easy to care for, required no expensive foods required no feeding, bathing, walking, grooming, was well-behaved, had an even temperament, would not grow elderly or pass away or become sick. They were the perfect pets, and Gary joked about it with his friends. However, he soon took the idea seriously, and went home and started to write an instruction manual for a pet rock. The manual was full of jokes and gags that referred to the inanimate rock as a pet.
Dahl quit his job to launch Rock Bottom Productions, the company that sold the pet rocks for $3.95 per “pet”. Marketing, packaging and shipping the pet rock like live pets, in cardboard, pet carrier boxes, with straw for the rock to rest on and breathing holes. Large volume sales only lasted about six months, however sales made Dahl a millionaire.
The pet rock sold for $3.95 and some approximations are that Dahl sold over 5 million of his pet rocks.
Purchasing each rock for a few pennies and Dahl estimated that the packaging (the pet rock carrier, the straw and instruction manual cost under 30 cents each. Therefore, assuming material costs and delivery brought the total to about 65 cents per rock, with a profit of over 3 dollars per rock. With these totals Dahl earned over 15 million dollars during a six month period in 1975 which is over $50 million today by current estimates.
The key to the rock’s success was a thirty-two page official training manual “The Care and Training of your Pet Rock” that gave detailed instruction on how to care for and train your pet.
The August gift show in San Francisco and a show in New York were the introduction sites for the Pet Rock. A large department store ordered five hundred. Gary Dahl sent out news releases of himself with a picture that showed him encircled by boxes of his Pet Rocks. Newsweek did a story about Gary and his creation, and by the end of October 1975, Dahl was shipping ten thousand Pet Rocks per Day. He appeared on “The Tonight Show,” twice.
In the end, it was the brilliant marketing campaign that sold the rock, not the rock itself.