Let us take as an anchor the list, compiled and published by Time magazine in 2010, of the top 10 toy crazes of modern times (“From Tickle Me Elmo to Squinkies: Top 10 Toy Crazes”). Here is the list:
i) Tickle Me Elmo; (ii) Beanie Babies; (iii) Silly Bandz; (iv) Pet Rocks; (v) Tamagotchi; (vi) Cabbage Patch Kids; (vii) OGs; (viii) Furby; ix) Bratz Dolls; and (x) the Rubik's Cube
An impressive list of improbably commercially successful toys, but in this Kat's eyes, one of them stands out: the success of the Pet Rock in the mid-1970’s. For Kat readers who may not be familiar with Pet Rock, a bit of history is called for. As Wikipedia explains--
“In April 1975, Gary Dahl was in a bar (which is now Beauregard Vineyards Tasting room in Bonny Doon) listening to his friends complain about their pets. This gave him the idea for the perfect "pet": a rock. A rock would not need to be fed, walked, bathed, or groomed; and would not die, become sick, or be disobedient. He said they were to be the perfect pets, and joked about it with his friends. Dahl took the idea seriously, and drafted an "instruction manual" for a pet rock. It was full of puns, gags and plays on words that referred to the rock as an actual pet.
Pet Rocks were a smooth stone from Mexico's Rosarito Beach. They were marketed like live pets, in custom cardboard boxes, complete with straw and breathing holes for the "animal." The fad lasted about six months, ending after a short increase in sales during the Christmas season of December 1975.”
Pet Rocks were not identical in appearance; different facial features adorned various Pet Rock products. However, by most accounts, the attraction of the toy rested on the charm of the instructional manual. One particularly memorable part of the 34-page manual stated that—
"Your Pet Rock will be a devoted friend and companion for many years to come. Rocks enjoy a rather long life span so the two of you will never have to part—at least on your Pet Rock's account."
The Pet Rock craze rapidly diminished soon after the 1975 Christmas season, but not before Dahl had become a wealthy man. It is estimated that in less than six months, he had sold approximately 1.5 units, at $4.00 per unit, netting him $15 million (in 1970’s) dollars. The rocks that Dahl purchased from the Mexican beach cost him one U.S penny each, leading to huge profit margins for each unit sold. The momentary success of the Pet Rock toy is particularly impressive when one recalls that it was launched before age of the internet and globalization. Nevertheless, Dahl succeeded in getting the word out about his product on a mass scale in remarkably short order. Dahl passed away in the spring of 2015. It is reported that several years ago, the mark Pet Rock was registered as a trademark in the United States (unfortunately due to the power outage at the USPTO offices in suburban Washington DC, this Kat was unable to verify this information).
is reported to have said:
"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."
In other words, it was a form of escapism. Lest Kat readers forget, the mid-1970's were a particularly dark time in U.S. history. The war in Vietnam was moving towards an inglorious end, while the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of President Nixon. Adding to all of this doom and gloom was the fact that the U.S. economy was mired in stagflation. This Kat well remembers those days; he also remembers the refreshing irreverence embodied in the Pet Rock. The Pet Rock was perfectly attuned to the somber mood of its times. Seldom had a toy served such a role as well.
IP did little to support the Pet Rock toy during the zenith of its fad. When one goes beyond the banal artistic facial features added to the various rocks themselves, and the fact that the instructional manual was protected by copyright, the only IP right that really mattered was the potential goodwill in the toy. But such goodwill was fleeting—a brand is so very hard to develop for the long term on the basis of cynicism and despair. To have staying power, Dahl needed to create a durable positive branding message. But he failed to do so. As a result, the Pet Rock was relegated to a prominent position in the Pantheon of toy fads that have come and gone.
To all Kat readers, enjoy your Christmas presents, faddish or not, and have a great holiday weekend.