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[Originally posted 12/22/2005]

I could not believe my eyes the other day when I saw a TV commercial for the ugly old Chia Pet product line. I guess I figured that enough time had passed for this familiar marketing fad to have faded into oblivion. But there must be sufficient ongoing demand to justify continued production. There is no surer sign that the holiday gift-buying season is in full swing.

The history of the product’s distribution dates back to 1982:

Animal figurines have also been designed which have live herbs that simulate the fur or hair of the particular animal. Exemplary of such is those sold by Joseph Enterprises, Inc. of San Francisco, Calif. under the trademark Chia Pet. These figurines have hollow, clay bodies in the general form of the animal represented. A large torso portion of the clay body has many small grooves in which moistened chia seeds (Salvia Columbariae) are positioned. The moistened chia seeds produce a thick, gel-like paste which binds the seeds to the clay surface.*

Chia Pet(r) is the registered trademark belonging to Joseph Enterprises, Inc., the manufacturers and originators of the Chia Pet. The name was first used on September 8, 1977. The Chia Pet is not a patented invention. Other companies can freely make and sell novelty items similar to the Chia Pet, but the name of Chia Pet(r) belongs to Joseph Enterprises, Inc.

The first Chia Pet(r) was the ram, marketed and distributed in 1982.

Who needs a dog or cat when you can own a Chia Pet(r)? Available in popular Bunny, Frog, Hippo, Kitten, Pig, Puppy, Turtle, as well as the new Chia Head(r).

Apparently young kids have enjoyed the satisfaction of observing how rapidly these chia seeds grow and cover the clay figurine. These Chia products are only marketed during the holiday season (the explanation on their website is that it takes all year to make enough of the pets and heads which are handmade pottery items). My guess is that their marketing studies showed that no one would ever buy one of these for themselves – but we have different standards when it comes to gifts for others.

But how does this qualify as a Pet? I guess you have to feed it or water it; it certainly is low maintenance. Maybe it has certain advantages. You can name it whatever you please. You can leave it at home while you travel without finding someone to watch it. You don’t have any expensive vet bills. Then again, it provides zero interaction. Who sits at home in the dark petting their Chia Pet? I think I will stick with my pet Scooter for now, thanks.

Given my distaste for this hybrid plant-animal-figurine, it came as no surprise to learn that the same company brought to market another of my favorite whipping-boy inventions – the Smart Clapper with its “Clap On, Clap Off” trademark slogan. That’s the type of product that old folks might find intriguing on the Home Shoppers Network; but once installed it quickly wears out its welcome.

Inventors everywhere, be encouraged. The American consumer has money to burn and their standards are not very demanding.