You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to be an entrepreneur.
What you do need to do is think different than the majority of people. That’s what Gary Dahl did, and it made him very successful.
Gary Dahl sold rocks. But not just any rocks, he sold Pet Rocks.
He marketed the Pet Rock to parents as a solution to one of their biggest problems – a nagging child who keeps asking for a pet. The Pet Rock is cheap, it’s a pet, and the best part? You don’t have to clean up any poop.
The craze around this “toy” was high up there, alongside the Hula Hoop and Slinky, though it’s production was much more, well, simple.
For about $4, you can buy a simple, oval rock in a box, with the idea that you present this rock to your child as a pet. In 1975, over a million customers did just that (remember there was no social media at that time) – and he proved, once and for all, that good marketing really can sell anything.
He sold the Pet Rocks for $3.95 and walked away with $15,000,000 (that’s not a typo, he really made $15 million).
So how did Gary Dahl do it – and what can we learn from his success?
Gary Dahl, who passed away in 2015, got his start as an advertising copywriter, which doesn’t really come as a surprise. The idea behind the Pet Rock supposedly started as a joke, inspired by the popular children’s story, Stone Soup. The idea was dreamt up over a few alcoholic beverages in Northern California, during which he listened to other patrons complain about how difficult pets were to take care of.
Legend has it that Dahl imagined that the Pet Rock was a “packaged sense of humor,” according to an interview with People he gave that same year. Whether it was the appeal of a fantasy pet, or it was simply for humor, the new toy made him very wealthy, very quickly.
We Judge Books By Their Covers
This is the most obvious point we can all learn from the Pet Rock. The reason why the product flourished, despite the fact that it was just an ordinary stone you could find in your backyard or in the park, was that it was packaged and marketed perfectly.
It came in a small container with air holes, similar to the ones that real pets might come in from the pet shop. The rock itself was laid in a nest of hay, making it look like an egg. And it even came with a detailed care guide with instructions on how to care for the rock – which was a genius stroke of cynical humor.
We’ve all hear the popular saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” If we actually listened to that advice, authors wouldn’t bother paying designers thousands of dollars (and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars) to make their book covers beautiful.
Your packaging tells the customer what their buying, but it can also be part of the product – and experience – itself.
Sell An Emotion, Not Just A Product
The Pet Rock catered to customers in the 1970s, who were feeling restless, bored, and cynical. Remember, this was the time that not only the Pet Rock became popular, but also Magic 8-Balls and mood rings. The most popular movies were about mental hospitals abusing patients (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) and sharks eating tourists (Jaws).
There was an aura of disillusionment throughout.
Dahl knew that people were unhappy and looking for escapism, and his product hit at just the right moment. Sometimes it’s not a product that the consumer wants, it’s a mental state they’re after. Whether it’s to laugh, fantasize, feel safe, or feel smart or powerful, cater to that.
If Gary Dahl can be successful by selling rocks, you can do it to. So what are you waiting for?