RIP Gary Dahl, The Guy Who Made A Ton Of Money On The Pet Rock

As terrible as the selfie stick (and its users) might be, at least its ultimate purpose is a practical one. Most inexplicably popular fads aren’t — a fact we’re reminded of today with the news that Gary Dahl, the man responsible for the pet rock, has died at the age of 78.

According to the New York Times, Dahl passed away over a week ago on Monday, March 23rd. Originally an advertising copywriter, he is best known for the “Pet Rock” — a hit toy from the 1970s that’s literally nothing more than what it sounds like. So how did a rock become a best-selling fad?

The genius was in the packaging. Each Pet Rock came in a cardboard carrying case, complete with air holes, tenderly nestled on a bed of excelsior. Mr. Dahl’s droll masterstroke was his accompanying manual on the care, feeding and house training of Pet Rocks.

“If, when you remove the rock from its box it appears to be excited, place it on some old newspapers,” the manual read. “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.”

Pet Rocks hit the marketplace in time for Christmas 1975. They were soon featured on “The Tonight Show” and in a blizzard of newspaper articles. In a matter of months, some 1.5 million rocks were sold.

No matter how you phrase it, the idea of selling (let along buying) a pet rock seems incredibly silly. But to Dahl’s credit as a genius of pre-internet viral marketing, he made millions on the idea.

And I was wrong, for his was a very practical fad to buy into 40 years ago. Unlike selfie sticks, Dahl’s seemingly useless product could still break a window.

(Via New York Times)