The 1970s is synonymous with the Pet Rock – the smooth stone nestled lovingly in a box, complete with silly instructions on how to give it the best care. Sadly, last week, its creator and veritable marketing genius, Gary Dahl, died at 78.
Dahl died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his wife, Marguerite Dahl, told the Associated Press.
“(The Pet Rock) was great fun when it happened. People would come to him with weird ideas, expecting him to do for them what he had done for himself. And a lot of times they were really, really stupid ideas.”
This is why, perhaps, Gary Dahl stopped giving interviews a long time ago – to avoid the “bunch of wackos” eager to talk. And he somewhat regretted the invention – “at the time dubbed one of the most ridiculously successful marketing schemes ever” – that earned the man millions and plenty of notoriety.
“Sometimes I look back and wonder if my life wouldn’t have been simpler if I hadn’t done it,” he said in 1988.
However, a generation of kids are grateful for the Pet Rock, whose inception began in a bar, The New York Times added. There, Dahl and a friend complained about the onerous task of cleaning up after pets when Gary mused that his pet was easy to care for. Because it was a pet rock.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Two of Dahl’s friends became his investors – and later sued for a bigger chunk of the profits, and won. Gary bought a ton of beach stones from Mexico for a penny a piece; he chucked the Pet Rock’s special carrying case and charged $3.95.
Of course, it wasn’t really the Pet Rock that got everyone’s attention, but the ridiculous instructions for its care.
“If, when you remove the rock from its box it appears to be excited, place it on some old newspapers. The rock will know what the paper is for and will require no further instruction. It will remain on the paper until you remove it.”
Its life in the spotlight was brief, though; between September and December in 1975, Dahl sold 1.5 million of them, added the New York Daily News. After that, their popularity fizzled out.
Afterward, bad luck followed the Pet Rock – from the aforementioned “wackos,” to lawsuits from business partners and a bevy of rip-off pet rocks that Gary had no power to stop. He tried to follow up his ingenious invention with the Original Sand Breeding Kit, but it never caught on.
In the end, the world was left wondering – why? And in an interview Dahl gave to People in 1975 may illuminate the motivation behind such an iconic, but truly stupid invention.
“People are so damn bored, tired of all their problems. This takes them on a fantasy trip — you might say we’ve packaged a sense of humor.”
[Photo Courtesy Amazon]