I’ve said before: “There is no such thing as a bad product, only bad marketing”. History is littered with products and businesses that seemed just too stupid to work until they actually did. It is difficult to tell why some products go viral and absolutely take over popular culture but it is a freak phenomenon that we all wish we could tap into at will. Sometimes it’s a matter of pure marketing genius; sometimes it just seems to be a freak accident. Anyone remember that song “Chocolate Rain”?
I’m sure that tons of idiotic, million dollar concepts are dreamed up and tossed into our cephalic warehouses every day. What types of individuals concoct these golden bits of seeming lunacy? We all do, only most of the time we’re too trapped in our stifling realities to take advantage of them. As entrepreneurs, we’ve got to learn to recognize these hidden diamonds and seize the day.
Below is a list of my top 10 concepts that went crazy in the marketplace and created overnight millionaires.
You’ve probably seen these things on a kiosk at the mall. They look like little glass balls with water and a small branch in them. Well…I guess that’s because they are little glass balls with water and a small branch in them. An ecosphere is a totally self-contained environment. You don’t have to feed them or water them, just expose them to sunlight and think about them. They cost from $58 to $450 each. Ecosphere Associates, operated by Dan Harmony, sells over $1,000,000 worth of these things every year. What???
The Banana Bunker:
(Giggle, giggle) Have you ever taken your favorite lunchtime snack out of your brown lunch sack and was totally mortified to find that it was all bruised up? Well, worry no more. The Banana Bunker is here. This phallic looking case was designed by Paul Stremple, a designer/architect because he kept bruising his banana. Don’t laugh; they’re now sold at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.
Cabbage Patch Kids
Created in 1977 by Xavier Roberts, these ugly-assed dolls were originally sold (sorry, delivered) exclusively through a converted medical clinic called Baby Land General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia. Roberts and his employees dressed up as doctors and nurses and each doll was sold with a birth certificate and adoption papers. Roberts delivered 250,000 of them at $100 – $1000…each…in 1977. When a contract was signed with Coleco Toys in 1982, 2.5 million dolls were sold in the first year.
Byron Reese got a postal address at the North Pole in Alaska and charged parents $10 bucks to write their kids a Santa letter from that address. He’s written over 275,000 letters since 2002. There is genius in simplicity.
The Chia Pet
The little clay animals that grow grass hides actually originated in Mexico. A very enterprising gentleman named Joe Pedott recognized the marketing potential of them (how I’ll never know) and began importing them by the gaggle in 1977. The “fur” of the Chia pet is actually seeds of a sage called Chia and at least 500,000 have been sold per year since 1977.
Damn, I was disappointed when my Sea Monkeys hatched to look nothing like the picture on the box! (C’mon, I know I’m not the only one!) Harold von Braunhut was the marketing madman behind the venerable Sea Monkey franchise. Since 1957, literally billions of these things have sold and they’ve even gone into space! They’re actually a variety of brine shrimp and their eggs can lay dormant for years and hatch when exposed to water. Von Braunhut marketed them in the backs of comic books with such tantalizing ad copy as “Amazing creatures that come back from the dead…” and “…Able to be hypnotized and taught tricks”. Von Braunhut used his Sea Monkey treasure to fund non-profit organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nation.
Jason Wall, founder of In-Concept, Inc, didn’t even invent the antenna ball. He got the idea for the potential market after hearing the news that Jack In The Box restaurant had sold over 3 million of them. By 1998, Wall had developed his own balls hahaha) and had sales of $1.15 million by 1999. His company now manufactures more than 500,000 custom antenna balls per month.
The Hula Hoop
Although the Hula Hoop hit the America mainstream in about 1957, it actually originated in Egypt roughly 3000 years ago! However, it was the marketing savvy of Richard Knerr and Arthur Melin of Wham-o Toys that took the plastic hoops to playgrounds around Southern California and introduced them to the public at large. Although it’s difficult to imagine the Hula Hope making the same kind of splash today in an era of Nintendo Wii’s; it is nonetheless one of the greatest business fads in U.S. History. 25,000,000 of them sold in their first 4 months in the marketplace!
Million Dollar Web Page
I know you’ve heard of this one. Launched in August 2005 by Englishman Alex Tew, the original idea was hatched to help cover the costs of Tew’s education. The plan was to construct a web page of 1 million pixels divided into 10 x10 pixel blocks and sell them off at $100 each. The ad space sold out in 5 months and the last 1000 pixels sold for a monstrous $38,000. Like every great idea, the page spawned dozens of imitators and for $50 you can download the script from the site and imitate it yourself.
The Pet Rock
My number one craziest business that shouldn’t have made it. Gary Dahl, an advertising executive, came up with the concept in 1975. Each rock was purchased for a few pennies with packaging and shipping costing another $.90. Dahl sold them for $3.95 each and it’s estimated that he sold over 5 million of them in six months. That’s probably $60,000,000in today dollars. Rocks, Man…Rocks.
There you have it. What type of fanciful, childlike, makes believe, Peter Pan, my-family-thinks-I’m-crazy ideas have you come up with? Stop by the comments and let’s put some of those ideas on paper. I PROMISE I won’t think you’re out of your mind.