It was April of 1976. It was one of those evenings when Gary Dahl, an advertising professional was having beer with his friends. His friends were going on and on complaining about their pets. In jest, he remarked that he had no complains about his pet. When probed about which pet, he said, that he had a pet rock.
This got a good laugh among his friends and that was that. Just like at time there is a tune or some thought that is stuck in our heads, this entire idea of having a pet rock was stuck in his head. So, he did what any entrepreneur would do – going about creating a product around his idea of pet rock.
It is now October and he has been working on this idea on and off since April. He got hold of rocks, created a carefully designed package – (with holes for oxygen to go through to the rock), soft base of straw so the rock feels comfortable and most importantly the 32 page pet rock training manual.
This manual (you can buy a kindle version here) had clear instructions on how to train your pet rock to sit, sleep, roll down (of course assisted by a slope) or attack the bully who troubles you ( of course with the assistance of the pet owner) and many more skills that can be taught to the pet rock.
He then sent press releases to various media outlets. Some of them picked the PR for the sheer absurdity of the idea. It even got him on the Tonight show. Twice.
The fad lasted for about 3 months and Gary sold about 1.5 Million pieces in those 100 days and netted a million dollars in profit. Each piece sold at about 4 dollars then with a dollar in net profit.
In an interview he said that no one except himself believed in the idea. Not even his wife.
Entrepreneurs have this unique ability to trust their intuition and their ability to make something work. Combine it with marketing smarts and you can make a market for almost anything – even a pet rock.
Lessons in Entrepreneurship from the Pet Rocks Experiment:
- Any idea can be made to work, if we can put in enough effort and creativity.
- Idea alone does nothing. We need to act on our idea and launch it. It is critical for any product. We can never guess which products can take off.
- Self-belief and the ability to back ourselves is critical for success. Gary ended up taking loans from investors to launch this product. He invested in the packaging (both material and labour).
- Anything that can catch the imagination of people can become marketing fads and do brisk business but for a brief amount of time.
- Packaging is critical. If it were not for the packaging and the accompanying training manual, no one would have bothered about this pet rock. As Gary once said, it is not the rock that he sold, it was pun or humour that sold.
- It is almost never about what we are selling, it is always about the story we create for our customers about what they are buying. Enable them to tell an impactful story, create meaning for the customer and they will buy your story, thereby your product, however effective or absurd it is.
I came across this story when listening to Terry O’reilly. Please do listen to his podcast. It is one of the best produced and most interesting podcast that i have come across on the topic of marketing. You can find more info about the podcast @ Under the Influence and you can subscribe on iTunes here. Highly recommended.
PS: Here is a video where a new pet rock is being trained by his owners.
PSS: Here is another video which explains in detail about the pet rock story.