Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life examples of the good, the bad, and sometimes wild, in marketing.

Julia: Everybody, I’m excited. We’re doing something new and different today. I don’t even have a good word for it, except that I’ve been calling it the “Surprise Podcasts.” So what it is is I, or somebody else has found a really interesting business/marketing story. And I am bringing on somebody in my staff to talk about it. So Ryann is here with us. She’s about to introduce yourself so you can recognize her voice. 

But before I do that, I’m just gonna tell you, Ryann has no idea what we’re about to talk about. And I don’t know if she has heard of this before, because she might have, she might not have. And we really don’t have any idea how this is gonna go, but hopefully it’ll be really fun.

Ryann: I’m sweaty about it, but in the best way, I’m very excited. 

Julia: All right, Ryann, tell us where you live in a fun fact about yourself.

Ryann: Alright. My name is Ryann. I am a senior content coordinator at Stratos Creative Marketing. I am based in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, which is a suburb just east of Madison. And a fun fact about me is that I was recently tapped to judge a charcuterie board contest, which is very Wisconsin of me. And I was so flattered. I can’t wait to do it. 

Julia: Yeah. So before we get into this, what do you think you’ll be judging the charcuterie on? like what are gonna be the qualifications? 

Ryann: I’m guessing variety of things. They do have specific brands, like cheese brands and meat brands that you have to use. I’m guessing design, right? People have been making salami flowers. I don’t know if you’ve been seeing that online. I’m guessing, you know, how those look overall. Yeah. Overall design, variety. And of course taste. If I get to eat cheese, then I’m happy about it. 

Julia: That’ll be fun. I feel design, both of the elements and then also how they’re configured together will be important. 

Ryann: How many different varieties of delicious meat and/or cheese, and/or jelly, and/or jam, or fancy nuts can you fit on this board? And how good do they taste or do they make a fun shape? 10 out of 10.

Julia: That’ll be fun and it’ll be fun to eat. So for today’s mystery marketing or a surprise business. We’re gonna be talking about Gary Dahl’s pet rock. Have you heard of this? 

Ryann: No, tell me more. I mean, wait question, is it the 1970s? Is this a time machine? 

Julia: It is the 1970s, it is 1975. I’m gonna share my screen with Ryann so she can see the pet rock. And so Ryann, really quick, describe what you’re seeing in this picture. 

Ryann: Alright, I am seeing a cardboard that it has the branding pet rock on it, and it has holes in it like you would get if you’re getting a small pet so it could breathe. Make sure it could live in the box. For one thing, I don’t understand why animals were ever put in small cardboard boxes without holes in it to breathe, but whatever, it is what it is, and then it is what looks like a red rattan or a wicker nest with a rock in it, a, a gray rock that looks like an egg. So then that’s the thing. It makes it more lifelike or, I’m gonna totally butcher this word, anthropomorphize? I did it! Thank you! That rock to make it seem more like an animal.

Julia: So I’ll give you the history of this. And everybody, if you wanna look at the picture, we’ll have it on our social and on our website in the show notes. But the person who invented this, his name is Gary Dahl, in 1975, and these sold for 3.95. He sold them in gift shops and stuff like that. Obviously not online, cause of the seventies. It comes with a carrying case. It also comes with a pamphlet of care and training. So it has instructions inside of it for obedience commands, such as come, stay, roll over, play dead, and they said play dead was one of the things that the pet rock is especially good at. 

Ryann: It’s great that you don’t even need to train it. 

Julia: Exactly. But this is what’s crazy. It’s estimated that he sold one and a half million of these. Isn’t that wild?

Ryann: Good for him! Is he still living on this pet rock money? Like on the residuals? I hope so!

Julia: No, it lasted for about a year or two. And he, Gary Dahl, unfortunately is no longer walking the earth. But his pet rocks have lived in infamy. So let’s talk about this. Well, any other reactions to it before we talk about it? Cause I have some questions.

Ryann: I mean, very clever. Honestly, if you sold that many, he was doing something right with his marketing. Right, whether it was goofy/cheesy, and people are like, “Oh, this is hilarious! Let me buy this pet rock.” Or people are like, “No, I really want to pretend to care for this rock.” Either way, it worked. He did something.

I have seen pet rocks before, but I haven’t dove into any of the marketing of it all. So I’m excited to hear more about that and the history. As someone who grew up on Lake Michigan and collected rocks and, or painted rocks. And like at my parents’ house, we have lots of like heart shaped rocks, my mom will find them and then bring them to our house, is this something we may have bought if I was alive in the seventies? Maybe? Also, I see myself as a caretaker. So it’s like when you’re in high school and you had the egg or the flour bag, it’s even less than that. 

Julia: I think a modern version of this that we grew up was those digipets. Did you have one of those? 

Ryann: Yeah, the Tomagotchi was when I was in junior high. That’s right, everyone. I went to school in middle grades when it was called junior high and not middle school. Take that, Gen Z! 

Julia: But I think that there is something about having something that’s not real that you care for, even if it is silly and a joke.

Ryann: People have stuffies or things! I was just telling my husband, I’ve had a pet since I was three. Even when I was a freshman in the dorms, I had a goldfish because I couldn’t have pets.

Julia: So this would be a perfect pet for college students. 

Ryann: Yeah, it could have been, buy it for your college freshman right now, everybody! 

Julia: One of the things that Gary Dahl actually said, he had an interview with People magazine that year, and he 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.” And I liked it because it is kind of a sense of humor. The pet rock is really good at playing dead, obviously. But he went beyond just doing this pet rock, to creating the branding around it, creating this pamphlet around it, and in the end, it was only $3.95, which I know in the seventies was worth more.

Ryann: That’s more, or that’s less than a greeting card right now. I’d rather buy someone a pet rock right now than a greeting card that they may or may not throw away. At least the rock can be a paperweight or hilarious joke, you know what I mean? This pet rock could be more useful. 

There is something novel to, that wasn’t a problem in the seventies, but now we’re taking screen breaks or it’s not Farmville or Candy Crush, right, it’s not engaging you in that way. It’s away from the screen, taking a break. And then yes, it’s a silly, it’s just a rock.

Julia: And if you think about it, this is 20 or so years after the world war. It’s three years after Watergate, things that really rocked…rocked our nation. 

Ryann: You didn’t even mean to do that, it was so good.

Julia: I just can’t help it! It’s things that really affected our nation that probably were really depressing. And so I like the idea of him saying that they packaged a sense of humor because, in a way, this was bringing levity to people’s lives. 

Ryann: Yeah, I mean, we need a pet rock right now. Is that why I keep listening to the corn song?

Julia: Probably, yeah. Now you gotta tell everybody what the corn song is, if they haven’t heard about it.

Ryann: If they haven’t heard about the corn song, I don’t know…they are living under a rock! Full circle of the moment, everybody! 

Julia: Oh my gosh. This is ridiculous. Tell us about the corn song. 

Ryann: Okay. As quickly as I can, there is an Instagram account called Recess Therapy where this man interviews kids and they are so adorable. Do you like funny things kids say? Follow Recess Therapy! Anyways, couple weeks ago in August, he interviewed, or he published an interview with a young man named Tariq, who was eating corn and he just loved it so much. And you know what. He didn’t know that corn was real. And so he talks about it. “I tried it with butter and everything changed,” and there was just all of these good little nuggets, literally little corn nuggets of hilarity and adorableness, like have a corntastic day. 

I can’t even, my brain is flooded with all the things I love about it. Anyways. That little interview turned into a couple more, like tell me more why you like corn and everything. Then the Gregory brothers who had things like the bedroom intruder, “Hide your kids, hide your wife” song from many, many moons ago, and they also made the song, “Chrissy Wake Up” from Stranger Things, remixed parts of the interview into the “It’s Corn” song. And it has been a worldwide internet sensation. It’s not gonna win a Grammy, but it should, it has done, you know, in the world of the TikTok and Instagram reels of it all, the audio, last time I checked was 14,000 videos, but I know it’s more than that.

So if we have time, maybe later I’ll circle back and see what it is, but I’ve seen people use the audio in so many different ways. And then also Tariq himself, what happened? Oh, he was on a Chipotle reel where they were making the burrito, and it was like, “Do you want meat?” “No thank you!” “Do you want rice?” “No, thank you!” “Do you want corn?” “It’s corn!” And I was just really happy for him. I’m happy for the internet celebrity he’s getting, he also was the corn-bassador of the South Dakota state fair. He got to visit the corn palace. I was listening to a podcast the other day and someone didn’t know what the corn palace was and I was like, wait, you’re clearly not from the Midwest. Because if you’re from the Midwest, you know what the corn palace is, we don’t have any more time to talk about it. But yes, I have been to the corn palace. If you’re asking, it’s on the way to Mount Rushmore, it’s like one of the things you see when you drive.

Yeah. And that song just makes me really, really happy when I’m sad.

Julia: I’m impressed. You know that much about it. I was not expecting that big of an explanation. 

Ryann: I could talk more about it, but I won’t, we don’t have time.

Julia: But I think that’s a really good point. It kind of is, there’s a correlation between this pet rock and the corn song. We just came out of a really, and we’re not even out, but we just went through the pandemic and life really sucked for a long time and it still does for a lot of people. And I think that we’re always looking for humor or something to kind of take us out of that situation. And so back in the seventies, a pet rock was great.

Now we are a little bit more advanced technologically and we have different things to take our brains off of what’s hard. And so the corn song, I think even reels. Everybody asks us how to make a reel go viral or how to get a ton of views on a reel. But when in reality, the best reels are the ones that are natural and funny. And that are just people being people. And some of it might be imitating, copying other people’s, but it still is this ingenuity and really good ideas. 

Ryann: Yeah, I mean, I saw someone use the “It’s Corn” song to promote earrings that they made, that were corn cloud earrings. Good for them. Someone make a rug that’s a corn rug. Also people use corn for other things. Someone who’s running for Senate in Wisconsin, replaced the word corn with a word, like social security. Like “I really like social security” or whatever! So it’s just, I love the creativity that technology brings. And then, yeah. I mean, anything that makes life a little less daunting.

Julia: Yeah, a little less hard.

Ryann: Yeah. Like a pet rock. 

Julia: I think that my biggest takeaway from this is, for one, this was fun. 

Ryann: I wanna do another one!

Julia: I have more. Yeah, I think in general, one of the articles that I read was talking about how, just like we’ve talked about, this really took off because it was in the wake of something that was really hard and really bad and how we can also see some of those same things nowadays because, in a way. it’s about timing. He did sell one and a half million. I do have a, well, I don’t have marketing facts about it. I did read something that he had tried to invent a bunch of other things afterwards and none of them took off. And so there was something about this pet rock be like perfect time, perfect place.

And I think there’s something to be said about that. Like, we can work on something really hard, but there is, maybe like a degree of luck to it, too. Any takeaways for you? 

Ryann: I would say continue to just be creative, right? Like you said, he had so many different ideas and one took off. So what is different about marketing now is that the news cycle/marketing cycle is so quick that it’s hard for something to have staying power. But you can still have that lightning in the bottle moment or like corn on the cob moment, right?

Julia: Or, oh my gosh. I just remembered, do you remember the Oscar Meyer bologna masks?

Ryann: Yeah I still have it. I didn’t use it yet. I bought it!

Julia: Those all sold out, didn’t they?

Ryann: Yeah, I bought them within two days. I saw the ad and I bought it. I was like, this is amazing and hilarious. It’s in my little self-care drawer to, because I don’t want it, it seems so funny. I also don’t wanna waste it. 

Julia: You need the perfect moment for it. 

Ryann: Yeah. I can’t waste it on a self-care Sunday that’s just like, whatever. It’s gotta be a good one.

Julia: While you’re eating charcuterie. 

Ryann: Yes! And wearing the Heinz ketchup stained shirts. That’s like a whole other thing that’s happening right now.

Julia: Right. I think that’s the thing is just, like you said, creativity, people love creativity and people love cool, funny ideas. And I think that no matter what, we’re gonna continue to see iterations of these weird things that are selling, because people think that they’re funny and they provide some sort of comic relief in their lives. 

Ryann: Yeah. And moving quick. So if there’s something, if there’s a trend or something that’s happening that’s really funny right now, if you have an idea that’s maybe not perfected, still try it out and do it. Because I feel like you don’t wanna miss out on that trend, if you have something that makes sense.

Julia: Like all the people capitalizing on the corn song, that’s really a wonderful example of it. I think even to the pet rock, if somebody had been like, and I will make clothes for your pet rock or accessories for your pet rock.

Ryann: That pet rock needed jewelry. I don’t know how it’d wear earrings, but mine would have earrings on it. 

Julia: I guess clip-ons, like sticky ones. Or somebody making a four poster bed for it. I mean, forget a rattan little basket. 

Well, Ryann, thanks for joining us for this really random story, but really fun conversation. Everybody, we’re gonna have more of these. I have no idea if they will be more polished or not, probably not, but if you have any weird marketing or business stories, send ’em our way. Also if you ever owned a pet rock, we would love to know. 

Ryann: Or a different kind of pet thing, right? What is something you bought that was weird or wild? But you loved it, so you bought it anyways. We would love to hear what it was, what made you buy it? 

Julia: Yeah. Send us a picture. We’ll feature you on our Instagram. Everybody, we’ll see you next, or I guess you’ll hear from us next week. You won’t see us.

Ryann: Bye everyone!

Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have, if you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and want to give us a rating or a review, I promise we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.

Also, thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys. Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week and I hope you will be too.

In this episode…