Teaching An Old Rock New Tricks
By James Grahame
Pets are messy. They gnaw on your shoes, claw furniture and barf hairballs all over the carpet. Thus concluded a group of friends in a California bar one evening in April 1975. One of them, Gary Dahl, grinned and announced, "I have a pet rock!" and the pals spent the evening dreaming up reasons that a rock would make the perfect pet.
Dahl had a background in advertising and knew a good idea when he heard one. He spent the next few days writing a tongue-in-cheek guide entitles "The care and feeding of your pet rock" and got a graphic designer to create a suitable cardboard carrying crate. The prototype smooth round pet was purchased from a nearby hardware store, and legend has it that Dahl eventually sold three tons of pebbles from Rosarito Beach in Baja, California.
Dahl unveiled his $3.95 creation at a San Francisco gift show, and Neiman Marcus was the first major retailer to jump on board. A flurry of press followed, and Dahl was selling 10,000 pet rocks a day by the end of October 1975. It was the perfect affordable Christmas present for almost anyone, and Dahl shipped 1.3 million pet rocks over the course of the holiday season. However, it didn't take long for dozens of competitors to jump in by adding googly eyes, painted mouths and all manner of gimmicks. The fad was pretty well dead by the end of the year.
Dahl lost a few friends after becoming an instant millionaire, as several of his friends at the bar accused him of selling out their idea. He was unable to rekindle the spark that made the Pet Rock such a runaway hit, but the pet rock has gone down in history books as a classic example of brilliant opportunistic marketing. These days, Dahl lives in a sprawling house in the Los Gatos hills. He still manages a few advertising accounts and recently penned "Advertising For Dummies."