In the arena of toy fads and gag gifts, the Pet Rock punched way above its 2.5-ounce weight class. This unlikely collectible took the 1975 holiday season by storm and is still celebrated annually on Pet Rock Day, which takes place this year on September 6th.
THE PERFECT PET
It didn’t need to be walked, fed, trained, or groomed! The Pet Rock quickly went viral and made a multi-millionaire out of its creator, Gary Dahl. The success was in the packaging: each egg-shaped stone was sourced from a beach in Mexico, placed on a bed of straw and nestled in a cardboard box complete with airholes, handle, and a training manual.
The accompanying thirty-two page booklet, The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock, offered its owner tongue-in-cheek instructions on things like how long the pet needed to be acclimated to its new surroundings (three days), simple obedience commands, and party tricks (play dead was my favourite).
Like most fads, the Pet Rock had a short ride and public interest waned after about six months. To prolong the toy’s commercial life, Dahl’s company, Rock Bottom Productions, struck licensing agreements with independent entrepreneurs who sold accessory items, such as Pet Rock food (rock salt) and Pet Rock Shampoo (ordinary detergent). A 1976 bicentennial version of the Pet Rock featured an American flag painted on the rock’s surface.
The Pet Rock craze reinforced the appeal of play pets and helped validate the market for a whole genre of toys that attempt to replicate the appeal of owning a real pet without the real responsibility of caring for it.
KEEP ON ROCKIN’
The overnight success of the Pet Rock also resulted in a number of copy-cat rock toys, such as the glow-in-the-dark Kryptonite Rocks put out by Fan Club Corporation of America (FCCA) in 1978. Riding the long tail of the Pet Rock fad, Kryptonite Rocks tied into the then-forthcoming release of Superman: The Movie.
FCCA marketed the celestial rocks primarily through ads in comic books that implied the company had discovered a large chunk of Kryptonite on Earth and broken it into a million pieces. “True friends of Superman” could buy the shards for $2.50 each plus a shipping charge and help keep them out of the hands of Superman’s enemies.
Todd Coopee is Editor-in-Chief of Toy Tales, an online publication that covers toys and games past and present.