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Author Topic: Silly Products That Made Millions  (Read 10354 times)

Jay Sadie

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Silly Products That Made Millions
« on: September 16, 2011, 03:26:14 AM »

1.  Pet Rock
2.  SantaMail
3.  Doggles
4.  Snuggie and Slanket
5.  Bottled Water
6.  Slap Bracelet
7.  Slinky
8.  Silly Bandz
9.  Topsy Tail
10. Designer Diaper Bags
11. The Million-Dollar Homepage

[float=right][smg id=108 caption="Pet Rock"][/float]1. Pet Rock

It was the idea that ushered in the modern era of toy marketing, where buzz often overshadows substance (think Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo). Ad man Gary Dahl, fed up with hearing people complain about pet care, figured he could create a low-maintence pet and cash in to boot. Buying a load of stones from a quarry, he packaged them in boxes with air holes, straw, and a complete care manual. Though the fad was short-lived—its golden age lasted only a few months—Dahl’s overhead was tiny, with the rocks costing about a penny and retailing for $3.95, and he quickly became a millionaire. Meanwhile, Dahl’s core idea has lived on in products ranging from the late-1990s Tamagotchi to the more recent Pet Barock.

In April 1975, 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, 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. However, he eventually took the idea seriously, and went home 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.

The first Pet Rocks were ordinary gray stones bought at a builder's supply store. 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. During its short run, the Pet Rock made Dahl a millionaire. With the proceeds, he opened the ironically named "Carrie Nation's" bar in downtown Los Gatos, California.

In 1973, Dahl established Rock Bottom Productions, a company that sold the rocks for US$3.98 each. The stones, imported from Rosarito Beach in Baja California, Mexico, were swaddled in packing material (usually hay or straw for the rock's "comfort") and nestled in a small cardboard box (with air holes for the rock to "breathe"), similar to a pet carrier.

A thirty-two page official training manual titled The Care and Training of your Pet Rock was included, with instructions on how to properly raise and care for one's new Pet Rock (notably lacking instructions for feeding, bathing, etc.). The instruction manual was the real product: it was full of gags, puns and jokes. It contained several commands that could be taught to the new pet. While "sit" and "stay" were effortless to accomplish, "roll over" usually required a little extra help from the trainer/owner. "Come," "Stand" and "Shake hands" were found to be near-impossible to teach, but "attack" was fairly simple (also with some additional help from the owner). The owners/trainers also found that potty-training their pet rocks was fairly simple, given that they were, in fact, rocks.

[float=right][smg id=109 caption="SantaMail"][/float]2. SantaMail
You'd better not pout, you'd better not cry, and you'd better have gotten your order in before Dec. 15 to get your letter by Christmas.
Yes, Virginia, you can get a reply back from Santa Claus, provided that your parents are willing to shell out 10 bucks. Since 2002, SantaMail has been sending personalized letters to children, complete with the child’s name and a postmark from the town of North Pole in Alaska. The 300,000 letters mailed since SantaMail’s inception show the idea was a smart one. (Until last year, the United States Postal Service offered a similar product for only the cost of postage and a self-addressed stamped envelope.)

Santa Mail for adults!

Santa mail is a great way to bring the joy and wonder of Christmas to anyone in your life!  Send letters from Santa to any adult, teenager or child.  You can personalize each letter to make them serious or funny!  Surprise your husband or wife, best friend, neighbor, co-worker or anyone you who could use a little joy at Christmas!

Santa Claus represents the spirit of giving, acceptance and joy.  A customized letter from Santa will not only amaze and delight your child but will also leave them with a friendly reminder about being thankful, respectful, helpful and loving to those around them.

[float=right][smg id=110 caption="Doggles"][/float]3. Doggles
The doting dog owner certainly has doggie clothes. He probably has doggie steps. Maybe he even has a $1,250 pet spa or $3,000 dog perfume. But to show he truly loves his pooch, he’ll need Doggles to protect Fido’s precious eyes. They look odd, but millions of dog owners have shelled out for these glasses, which start at $12.99 and come in two styles and various colors. Even the military has gotten in on the act, purchasing pairs for its four-legged fighters.

Doggles are a commercial brand of sunglasses for dogs in the form of tinted goggles designed to fit the shape of a dog's head.
While marketed as a fashion item, several practical and medical uses have been reported, and prescription lenses for dogs with restricted eyesight are available.

Doggles were invented by Ken and Roni di Lullo after they noticed their dog squinting in the sunlight. Experiments were made with human sunglasses and sports goggles before a pair was developed to fit the shape of a dog's head. They are now produced by the Doggles Company in North Carolina.

Doggles are constructed out of a tinted polycarbonate material for 'UV protection, with elastic straps to secure them to the dog's head.
Despite being listed as one of the "Most useless inventions ever", Doggles were ranked #6 in a list of "11 Ideas that shouldn’t have worked - but made millions" by MSN Money, and by 2004, were being sold in 4,500 shops in 16 countries and now include the option of prescription lenses.

[float=right][smg id=111 caption="Snuggie and Slanket"][/float]4. Snuggie and Slanket
A blanket with sleeves: it seems obvious, but this idea is so ingenious that it has managed to support not one but two almost identical products. The Slanket, which is basically the same thing as the Snuggie but a bit thicker, is the neighborhood graybeard, debuting in 2006; the Snuggie is the glamorous newcomer that set off the craze in late 2008. In total, both products—which are locked in a fierce (but comfy and warm) marketing battle—have revenues in the millions.

The original Slanket seems a little longer and comes in more colors, but it's effectively 4 times the price of the Snuggie. So is the Slanket simply overpriced, or is the Snuggie a cheap imitation? Googling Slanket versus Snuggie reveals that the question has been asked, but no one has come up with a definitive answer.
In late 2008 and early 2009 the "Snuggie" brand of sleeved blankets became a pop culture phenomenon, sometimes described humorously as a "cult".

The product became famous after a direct response commercial promoting the product was aired. It was featured on television programs like Today where cast and crew donned Snuggie blankets for a segment which was described as looking like a gospel choir. Others have described mass-snuggie wearing as looking like a Harry Potter convention. The Associated Press likened it to "...a monk's ensemble in fleece." and proclaimed it the "ultimate kitsch gift". The Snuggie initially sold singly for $14.95, and later in sets of two for $19.95.

The Slanket was mentioned in an episode of NBC's 30 Rock entitled "The Ones." The product has also been ridiculed as a "backwards robe" or simple reinvention of the coat on radio and television talk shows in the United States. Comparisons have also been made with the Thneed - a highly-promoted, amorphous garment in the Dr Seuss story, The Lorax.

On January 30, 2009 a group organized a pub crawl wearing Snuggies in Cincinnati, OH. In the following months they went on to complete over 40 more across the nation. Later, a group organized a Snuggie pub crawl in Chicago to raise money for an African orphanage, which led to similar sanctioned and independent events throughout the United States. A worker at Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative think tank, started the Facebook page "The Snuggie Cult", and convinced fellow conservatives including Joe the Plumber, Tucker Carlson, and Andrew Breitbart to pose wearing the robes.

[float=right][smg id=112 caption="Bottled Water"][/float]5. Bottled Water
There’s a time and a place for bottled water: when tap water is unsafe, unsavory, or simply unavailable. But the sales numbers for Dasani, Poland Spring, Aquafina, and others show that we’re not just resorting to the bottles when absolutely necessary. Indeed, the merchants’ cups runneth over, especially since many brands are simply repackaging tap water and selling it at a substantial markup. Although prognosticators have repeatedly forecast the demise of the industry, Americans’ thirst hasn’t dropped significantly: we continue to consume hundreds of millions of bottles of the stuff every week.

The global bottled water sales have increased dramatically over the past several decades, reaching a valuation of around $60 billion and a volume of more than 115 million liters (30,379,786 U.S. gallons) in 2006. U.S. sales reached around 34 billion liters in 2008, a slight drop from 2007 levels.

The global rate of consumption more than quadrupled between 1990 and 2005. Spring water and purified tap water are currently the leading global sellers. By one estimate, approximately 50 billion bottles of water are consumed per annum in the U.S. and around 200 billion bottles globally.

Bottled water has been described as "one of the greatest cons of the 20th century" and as "marketing's answer to the emperor's new clothes".

Bottled water has come under criticism in recent years for the environmental impacts of groundwater extraction, the energy and environmental costs of the plastic packaging and transportation costs, and concerns about water quality and the validity of some marketing claims. One criticism of bottled water concerns the packaging. Bottled water commonly is packaged in Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which requires a significant amount of energy to produce. While PET is recyclable, only a fraction of plastic bottles made from PET are actually recycled. For example, in the United States, according to a NAPCOR study, water bottles account for 50% of all the PET bottles and containers collected by curbside recycling, and the recycling rate for water bottles is 23.4%, an increase over the 2006 rate of 20.1%. European recycling rates tend to be somewhat higher. In the United States, plastic used to create bottles uses an estimated 15 million barrels of oil annually

[float=right][smg id=113 caption="Slap Bracelet"][/float]6. Slap Bracelet
Anyone who’s painstakingly balanced their way through a night in high heels can tell you that comfort and fashion are often at odds, but jewelry that literally forces you to hit yourself might be ridiculous even by those standards. OK, so the slap bracelet—the small piece of metal encased in fabric that wraps around the wrist when struck—isn’t that painful. And that’s probably a good thing, since it’s sold tens of millions of units and become a cultural phenomenon.

A slap bracelet (or snap bracelet) is a bracelet consisting of layered, flexible stainless steel bistable spring bands sealed within a fabric cover. The bracelet can be straightened out, creating tension within the springy metal bands. The straightened bracelet is then slapped against the wearer's forearm, causing the bands to spring back into a curve that wraps around the wrist, securing the bracelet to the wearer.

Invented by Wisconsin teacher Stuart Anders and sold under the brand name "Slap Wrap", the slap bracelet was a popular fad among children, pre-teens and teenagers in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was available in a wide variety of patterns and colors. The bracelet was banned in several schools following reports of injuries stemming from improper use. The bracelet was later reintroduced with a plastic spring, but there were still reports of injuries. More recently, slap bracelets have been worn on the lower legs of cyclists to prevent trousers from being tangled in the gear system

[float=right][smg id=114 caption="Slinky"][/float]7. Slinky
Like the Post-It Note, the Slinky was intended for one purpose but found huge success in another.

In 1943, Richard James, a naval mechanical engineer stationed at the William Cramp and Sons shipyards in Philadelphia, was developing springs that could support and stabilize sensitive instruments aboard ships in rough seas. James accidentally knocked one of the springs from a shelf, and watched as the spring "stepped" in a series of banana splits, to a stack of books, to a tabletop, to the floor, where it re-coiled itself and stood upright. James' wife Betty later recalled, "He came home and said, 'I think if I got the right property of steel and the right tension, I could make it walk.'" James experimented with different types of steel wire over the next year, and finally found a spring that would walk. Betty was dubious at first, but changed her mind after the toy was fine-tuned and neighborhood children expressed an excited interest in it. She dubbed the toy Slinky (meaning "sleek and graceful"), after finding the word in a dictionary, and deciding that the word aptly described the sound of a metal spring expanding and collapsing.

With a US$500 loan, the couple formed James Industries (originally James Spring & Wire Company), had 400 Slinky units made by a local machine shop, handwrapped each in yellow paper, and priced them at $1 a piece. Each was 21⁄2" tall, and included 98 coils of high-grade blue-black Swedish steel. The Jameses had difficulty selling Slinky to toy stores but, in November 1945, they were granted permission to set up an inclined plane in the toy section of Gimbels department store in Philadelphia to demonstrate the toy. Slinky was a hit, and the first 400 units were sold within ninety minutes. In 1946, Slinky was introduced at the American Toy Fair.

Richard James opened shop in Philadelphia after developing a machine that could produce a Slinky within seconds. The toy was packaged in a red-lettered box, and advertising saturated America. James often appeared on television shows to promote Slinky. In 1952, the Slinky Dog debuted. Other Slinky toys introduced in the 1950s included the Slinky train Loco, the Slinky worm Suzie, and the Slinky Crazy Eyes, a pair of glasses that uses Slinkys over the eyeholes attached to plastic eyeballs. James Industries' main competitor was Wilkening Mfg. Co. of Philadelphia and Toronto which produced spring-centered toys such as Mr. Wiggle's Leap Frog and Mr. Wiggle's Cowboy. In its first 2 years, James Industries sold 100 million Slinkys.

[float=right][smg id=115 caption="Silly Bandz"][/float]8. Silly Bandz
If you’ve never heard of Silly Bandz, you probably don’t know any tween girls. So what are they? They’re standard-size rubber bands shaped like animals, objects, and more. Developed in Japan, they were a niche, semi-highbrow product sold in museum stores as functional office supplies until Robert Croak—whose company produces Livestrong bands—discovered them and began mass-marketing them as an accessory. Even though they retail at less than a quarter apiece, the demand has been huge, with sales reaching into the millions. They’ve even spawned a cottage industry in narrowly targeted copycat versions.

Silly Bandz are rubber bands made of silicone rubber formed into shapes including animals, objects, numbers, and letters. They are distributed by BCP Imports and are normally worn as bracelets. Silly Bandz retail in packages with themes like princesses or animals. A pack of 24 sells for about $5 and packets of 12 for about $2.50. Similar shaped silicone bands are also available under other brand names from a variety of companies. Silly Bandz have been banned from some classrooms for being a distraction. There have been incidents where children have caused serious injuries by extending too many Silly Bandz up their arms, cutting off circulation.
Silly Bandz come in many different shapes and colors. On a wrist, they function like a regular bracelet, and when taken off they revert to their original shape. They are often worn many at a time and are traded like other collectibles. They can also be used for their original intent—as a regular rubber band.

The original shaped silicone rubber bands were created in 2002 by the Japanese design team Passkey Design, Yumiko Ohashi and Masonar Haneda. They made the bands in cute animal shapes to encourage sustainability by discouraging people from treating the rubber bands as disposable. Sold under the brand name Animal Rubber Bands, they won the Best Design award at the 2003 Japanese National Competition. These bands were not widely distributed in the United States, but in 2005 they were local hits in Guilford, Connecticut and at the Design Store at the New York City Museum of Modern Art.

Robert Croak, owner of Toledo, Ohio-based BCP Imports (known for distributing the Livestrong wristbands), encountered the bands on a business trip and decided to re-purpose them as a toy by making them larger and thicker, and marketing them as a kids' fashion accessory.

[float=right][smg id=116 caption="Topsy Tail"][/float]9. Topsy Tail
It's a classic example of something people didn't know they needed: a tool that turns a ponytail inside out!
In the 1990s, Tomima Edmark turned a bad hair day inside out -- and became a millionaire.

Ms. Edmark, who says she has always struggled with styling her long locks, invented Topsy Tail, a hair-styling contraption that flips ponytails inside out and makes intricate hair designs. The invention became popular with teenage girls, and millions of Topsy Tails have been sold.

Topsy Tail was a staple of a mid-1990s TV advertising; incredibly simple, the tool consisted of a loop with a handle and sold for $12.95. It attracted enough interest that it made more than $100 million, according to its inventor.

Another invention was a kiss-enhancing machine. After experimenting with the wires on a stereo, Ms. Edmark invented a device that used low-voltage wires that customers could connect to a stereo to give them a slight shock or tingling on their lips as they kiss to slow music. Customers could use handles connected at the ends of the wires to control the shock sensation.
She sold 1,000 in a month, but ended up abandoning the product when porn shops began inquiring about it. She also had production problems due to difficulty in assembling the machine.

[float=right][smg id=117 caption="Designer Diaper Bags"][/float]10. Designer Diaper Bags
Christina Leigh Rein managed to turn her own frustrations into a lucrative business. When she became a mother, she was annoyed by the difficulties of carrying around baby accessories: the diaper bags she had were too large or too frumpy, and stuffing diapers into her purse was a pain in the neck. So she invented a better solution, a small, stylish diaper bag for fashionable moms. As she suspected, other parents were excited about the idea, and her company, Diapees and Wipees, has gained endorsements from the likes of Isaac Mizrahi. The bags start at $19.99, but that's a small price to pay for making your child fashion-conscious from the moment he or she enters the world. The company has made more than $1 million in profits, Rein says.

In recent years, there has been an "explosion of styles, colors, designs, and functions." Diaper bags have helped fashion designers such as Timi & Leslie make their mark. Since 2005, some high-end designers such as Kate Spade, Coach and Ralph Lauren have launched expensive diaper bag designs. According to Fortune in 2006, "To gain an edge, smart manufacturers are doing whatever it takes to capture the attention (and aesthetics) of today's chic parents-to-be who are willing - sometimes even eager - to pay top dollar for products that seamlessly blend fashion and function." Designers can be protective of their diaper bag designs and trademarks. In 1977, diaper bags were the cause of a New York court case between Macy's and Gucci. The court found that Macy's had infringed on Gucci's trademark by selling diaper bags with green and red bands and the wording "Gucchi Goo."

Designs without bright colors or licensed characters can be high-fashion items associated with celebrity mothers. Companies also produce diaper bags with a more rugged look, as part of a growing sector of the baby-products market designed to appeal to men.

[float=right][smg id=118 caption="The Million-Dollar Homepage"][/float]11. The Million-Dollar Homepage
You've got to hand it to the entrepreneur who puts his goal right out there up front. In 2005, 21-year-old English college student Alex Tew concocted a strategy to pay for his school expenses: he'd create a Web page with 1 million pixels, each of which he'd sell to advertisers for a dollar (small catch: there was a minimum buy of 100 pixels, so that an ad was actually legible). The site sold out, and although Tew said he would only guarantee it through August 2010, it's still viewable, except for a few dead links. Sure, it's silly, but with almost no overhead and a million dollars in revenue, it's hard to argue with this success.

How did Alex Tew come up with the idea?

It was a muggy summer's night late in August (2005), the time around midnight, and there I was, lying on my bed with a notepad, brainstorming ideas to make money for uni. I think I'm quite a creative person, so I wanted to come up with an idea that was unique and would hopefully capture people's imagination, but with the whole purpose of making money. No point being shy about it! I think we brits can sometimes be too shy about money. Well bugger that, I DO NOT want to be a broke student!

So anyway, after an hour of two of jotting random things on paper, the idea seemingly popped out of nowhere. Almost like my subconscious mind had been ticking over in the background, working it all out. So it just kind of happened. That's about it. I scribbled it down and within about 10 minutes a picture of what needed to be done had emerged.

"I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success." - Nikola Tesla
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