Marketing Communication Ink

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The Pet Rock is Back. Genius Marketing Ideas Creating Something From Nothing.

"Own a wee part of Scotland" image from Highland Titles website

“Own a wee part of Scotland” image from Highland Titles website

It occurs to me that everywhere I look, there are examples of brilliant marketing… where someone has created a demand for something no one actually needs… from something that costs virtually nothing to start with.

I’m talking about tangible and intangible products which have virtually no redeeming value other than that which the marketer has created for their product.

Let me give you just a few examples:

Pet Rocks. If you weren’t around in the ’70s, these were an invention of an advertising exec who invented the perfect pet − one that never needed to be let out, fed, or tended to in any way, and better yet, never died. They were marketed as hypoallergenic and travel friendly. As I was just reminded in a Wikipedia article, these pets were actually just ordinary rocks obtained from a building supply store, but “were marketed like live pets, in custom cardboard boxes, complete with straw and breathing holes.”

Apparently they originally came with an owner’s manual filled with helpful info, like how to teach your pet to “sit and stay.” While you may wonder why this item is even included in my list, since they went out of vogue in the mid-70s, as of September 2012, the Pet Rock® is back again! While the press release states an introductory price of just $19.95, they’re currently selling for just $9.95 each, online only, from

Elongated pennies. You know the ones I mean… you put a copper penny into the machine, add the 75-cent fee, (or sometimes even up to $1.50, depending on how ritzy the tourist area may be), turn the crank, and get a raised depiction of some local tourist site overprinted on your coin. I’m not saying it isn’t worth more than a cent for the memory… and just as an aside, I recently heard that a standard penny − the good old-fashioned type from the US mint − now costs 11 cents to manufacture. But selling us back our own penny in a squished out new form, and charging us for its new appearance, is sheer brilliance.

For that matter, collectible coins and plates − where a likeness of some popular baseball player, or maybe the royal couple − is painted onto an ordinary coin or ceramic dish, and sold at upwards of 100 times face value, is another prime example of marketing genius, not to mention consumer stupidity.

What about the Star Registry − where you can “buy” that special someone the impractical gift of a star named in their honor? According to the Star Registry website, this unique gift comes “elegantly gift-wrapped” and includes an “accompanying card with personal message, personalized certificate, personal congratulatory letter, envelope to fit your mailbox, and detailed revolving star chart!” And, the entire gift package is offered for the low price of just $79.95, but if you act while their summer sale is ongoing, you get the entire ensemble for just $48.95! How the Star Registry folks came to “own” the stars to start with is beyond me…  and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that they sell the same star more than once… I mean, come on, who would know? (You’re looking at my star. No it’s mine!)

Along the same lines, have you ever heard of Highland Titles in Scotland, which is supposedly trying to conserve their highlands estate from ever becoming developed? To that end, they’ve subdivided their 2,000-square acre estate into hundreds of plots, 1 square foot in size,  and are selling them off to individuals for as little as $49.99 (US).

I can’t imagine what you’d do with a plot of land that’s just 1 square foot, but the marketing ploy is that along with the land come the rights to a proper Scottish title… “Laird, Lady, or Lord of Glencoe,” which can be used on legal documents, should you so choose. They claim the title can provide “a whole new experience in hotels and restaurants… Dinner parties will never be dull again… And it’s a great way to celebrate your Scottish heritage.”

They even allow add-ons… planting a tree, for example, and likewise offer inexpensive merchandise, from lapel pins, which sell for as little as 2.99 £ (Great Britain Pounds), to their most expensive item, a Scottish tartan for just 130 £. And, for people willing to spend just a bit more, larger plots are offered, up to 1,000 square feet, where you can “feel free to pitch a tent.” See the Highland Titles website for complete details.

Then, can you honestly tell me that French, Moroccan or Korean salt is really that much more valuable than Morton’s? Yes, artisan cooking salt must be mined and imported from an exotic locale… but at up to $32 per ounce (more than $500 per pound) vs. $0.50/pound for the traditional stuff, it just seems to me there’s a lot of fancy marketing going on. (And if you consider the most expensive of them all, Amethyst Bamboo, is described on The Meadow website, as smelling “like something dragons must use to season their victims before eating them,” it hardly seems worth the price, let alone putting on your food.)

Of course, I’m a marketer too, and full well understand about branding, as well as the rules of supply and demand. In fact, 5,000 years ago, when it was still quite rare, salt was actually used as a form of money. Its rarity, and therefore value, is where the expression, “worth their weight in salt” comes from; and according to, “salt” is the basis for many words still in use today – including “salary.” Whatever the case, perhaps it’s because I haven’t yet tried cooking with these specialty spices that this just seems like a clever marketing ploy to me.

Speaking of clever marketing ploys, what true genius came up with bottled water… which, as one of my favorite comedians, Lewis Black, commented several years ago, we used to get out of every spigot in our house, for FREE, when we were kids.

And in a similar fashion, which I shouldn’t really mention here… as it is actually useful… what about the domain-name companies who gobbled up all the words they thought would be in demand, and now generously sell back the rights to use that domain URL, for a fee, which could cost a few bucks to several hundred dollars, depending on expected popularity?

I could go on and on… but instead, let me ask you… what “turning nothing into something” marketing campaign, that I haven’t yet mentioned, do you admire most? Submit your favorite marketing ideas today!

Pet Rock® is a registered trademark of Rosebud Entertainment.


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This entry was posted on September 23, 2012 by in Business, Marketing and tagged , , , .
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