The novelty item known as the Pet Rock was a marketing phenom of the 1970s that puts one in the mind of the marketing and sales saying, “selling refrigerators to Eskimos.”
A warning label reads, “WARNING: Open box carefully, DO NOT remove rock before reading instructions.” A clever way to both continue the joke and cover any liability in case of a toe smashed by a rock dropped from the height at which a freshly purchased Pet Rock is typically held.
The Pet Rock was the brainchild of ad man Gary Dahl. In April of 1975, he was talking with friends about what a pain pets can be, joking that he had a pet rock and further explaining about its superior attributes as a pet. Everyone began adding to the joke, and, two weeks later, Dahl had written the Pet Rock Training Manual. You can probably imagine most of the jokes it made, but some examples are instructions to make it roll over, play dead and how to house train it. “Place it on some old newspapers. The rock will never know what the paper is for and will require no further instruction.”
Dahl then went to a builder’s supply store and bought the most expensive small rock it had to offer—it cost a penny. It came in a cardboard box, bedded in straw, with the manual. It cost $3.95, and in just a few months he had sold a million Pet Rocks. And with a net profit of $1.00 on each, Dahl became an instant millionaire.
Spinoffs, knockoffs and copycats appeared on the market swiftly, including one that was deviously named The Original Pet Rock. Other johnny-come-lately entrepreneurs offered leashes, Pet Rock Obedience Training Certificates or Pet Rock Burial-at-Sea Services.
After the Christmas season of 1975, the novelty was wearing off. The wave had passed, but it left an impression on the shores of marketing history more lasting than transient patterns formed in sand. The story of the Pet Rock still stands as an inspiration and insight into the fad culture of marketing and sales.
A dingbat is an ornament or spacer used in typesetting, sometimes more formally known as a “printer’s ornament.” The term supposedly originated as onomatopoeia in old style metal-type print shops, where extra space around text or illustrations was filled by “ding”ing an ornament into the space, then “bat”ing it tight to be ready for inking.
The term continued to be used in the digital era to describe fonts that had symbols and shapes rather than numbers or letters.
Tip: Search the web for font websites and then search within those sites for ornaments, dingbats or separates. There are free font websites.
Engaging a Market
How does one company get millions of women to persuade millions of unsuspecting men to spend more than a month’s salary on a tiny glittery stone? Concept marketing!
The idea that diamonds represent “perfect love” evolved during the Victorian age through the encouragement of the De Beers diamond cartel, but was reinforced later with more sophisticated marketing techniques.
In the 1930s, De Beers engaged upon one of the first major product placement campaigns when it handed out hefty stones to Hollywood starlets and then arranged well-publicized photo shoots to enhance the value of the product.
Scenes were injected into film scripts which glamorized the bliss of jewelry shopping, and leading men awed their female counterparts with the momentous presentation of the diamond ring. The diamond had been made an inseparable part of courtship and marriage.
In 1947, an ad agency came up with the hugely successful slogan “A diamond is forever,” equating the diamond’s durability with the concept of eternal love, further reinforcing the notion that the quality of love could be measured in carats.
In the 1960s, when the glut of smaller Russian diamonds entered the international market, De Beers responded by promoting the concept of the ten-year anniversary ring featuring the smaller stones.
In 1967, De Beers hired advertising agency J. Walter Thompson to popularize the diamond engagement ring in Brazil, Germany, and Japan. The concept of the diamond as a symbol of love had limited success in Brazil and Germany, but Japan has exceeded all expectations.
By 1978, half of all Japanese brides were given a diamond engagement ring. By 1981, the number had grown to 60 percent. A new tradition had been woven into the social fabric of Japan where nothing like it had ever existed before.
While, in fact, diamonds may crack, break or lose value, perhaps the marketing concept that diamonds equate to eternal love will last forever.