Image of a pet rock

Image via Wikipedia

In 1975, an advertising executive from Los Gatos, CA quit his job and made $15 million over six months selling rocks. Gary Dahl, who is often regarded as a marketing genius for his Pet Rock, was so successful with his idea that it changed the way many people view marketing.

Dahl came up with the idea while he was sitting at a bar listening to friends complain about the hassles of their pets: walking, grooming, bathing, feeding, and costs associated with them.

Dahl joked around that a pet rock – something that would require no care, would never get sick and would never die – would be an ideal replacement. His playful idea turned into a reality as he went to work developing a training manual for the rock and designing a package for the product that resembled a pet carrier, with breathing holes and a straw bed for comfort.

The final Pet Rock came with a 32-page manual, titled The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock, which described in detail how to effectively care for and properly raise one’s Pet Rock. The manual made light of the inanimate object, treating it like a real live animal, and included many humorous references.

After Dahl debuted the rocks, sales soared for six months, ending with a peak during the 1975 holiday season, selling 5 million units in total.

What made the rock so widely popular wasn’t the product itself, but the instruction manual that accompanied it. Its humor and witty puns helped propel it to a level of success that no one would have imagined was attainable.

Dahl demonstrated that to sell something, you don’t need an immediately necessary product. What you will always need, however, is a sound marketing strategy that will interest people. It was a brilliant marketing campaign, and companies everywhere began to subscribe to the notion that selling the brand was just as important as selling the product.

Another great example of marketing is Coors’ strategy: They advertise themselves as “the world’s most refreshing beer,” but on their bottles and cans, “cold activation technology” is built into the label to measure how cold the beer is: cold or super cold.

Coors hasn’t been selling the beer on its taste or quality lately. Their recent ads have been focused toward the blue bars that tell a consumer how cold the beer is, not how good it will taste. All this does is read a temperature, which isn’t equivalent to quality or taste.

Certain brands have become so imbedded in the minds of Americans that people have replaced the traditional words used to describe them with the brand name:

  • “Can you hand me a Kleenex?”
  • “I need a Band-Aid.”
  • “I have to FedEx this package.”

These are all examples of how companies have been able to market their brand effectively enough to not only associate the name with the product, but to actually become the product.

Dahl wasn’t selling stones, he was selling an idea. If people really wanted a rock to take care of, they could go pick one up outside for free and give it a name. Instead, millions of people flocked to department stores and gift shops to purchase Dahl’s idea in a neatly packaged box complete with a booklet.

The main idea here is that if a company can come up with a brilliant marketing strategy, the product is secondary. Rocks are a dime a dozen, but it’s the ingenuity to sell them to the American public for $3.95 that takes some thought.



Spriegel, Andrew. “The Pet Rock was more than a gag or fad it was a brilliant marketing strategy” SPRIEGEL & ASSOCIATES

“Sell the Brand, Not the Product” Tribe Design

“Pet Rock That Made Man A Multi-Millionaire in 6 Months Lives On” PetsDo