Chia Pets: The Evergreen Holiday Tradition

Family of Plant Gifts Has Kept on Growing Despite Seasonal Sale Concentration

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Just like carols, stockings and eggnog, there's a holiday tradition that comes around every year: the Chia pet ad.

A full 90% of Chia sales occur during the holidays.
A full 90% of Chia sales occur during the holidays.
That seemingly omnipresent "Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia" refrain hits the airwaves every year around Thanksgiving and continues for the five to six weeks to Christmas. The company behind Chia, San Francisco-based Joseph Enterprises -- which also brought America the Clapper, the Ove Glove and the Creosote Sweeping Log -- focuses most of its ads around the holidays with a TV-centric push of 10-, 30-, and 60-second commercials created in-house that run on local, syndicated and cable TV.

As a result, a full 90% of Chia sales occur during the holidays, the company said (privately held Joseph Enterprises does not report company sales). "Because it's a demonstrable product at a relatively inexpensive price, running TV has been our savior every year," said Michael Hirsch, VP of Joseph Enterprises. "We like to say that the Chia pets have to hibernate the rest of the year."

Ads are inescapable
But during the holidays, Chia ads are as inescapable as department-store Santas, with the company concentrating a big burst of spending in a short period of time. Joseph Enterprises said it is spending on Chia pets, heads and herb gardens this year at the same levels as it did in 2007 -- some $8.9 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence figures. By comparison, TNS figures show that in January through September 2008, Joseph Enterprises spent just over $5,000 on Chia advertising.

Love them or hate them, the kitschy pottery and Chia-seed planters first introduced in 1981 have outlasted many fad products over the years, including dancing-flower plants, snap bracelets and Nano pets. Their inventor, Joseph Pedott, is even featured in the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Chia products are American icons that seem to enter the market in new forms each year. This year, Joseph Enterprises added to its ensemble Chia Christmas trees, cat-grass plants and licensed characters from DreamWorks' animated movies "Madagascar" and "Kung Fu Panda."

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.'s Scooby-Doo is the bestselling licensed Chia character.
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.'s Scooby-Doo is the bestselling licensed Chia character.
Mr. Hirsch describes Joseph Enterprises as "an ad agency that added manufacturing capabilities." It's a "soup to nuts" operation that not only manufactures Chia pets, but creates new advertising for the products and purchases all related media each year.

Who buys Chia
The popularity and longevity of the Chia brand seems to surprise even Mr. Hirsch. "We didn't know there would be a second year, let alone a 29th year."

Chia lovers tend to be indoor-plant lovers, typically women between the ages of 35 and 64. But children love Chia too, Mr. Hirsch said. The largest Chia markets are New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and the bestselling Chia pets are still the original animal shapes: puppies, kittens, hippos and elephants. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.'s Scooby-Doo is the bestselling licensed character.

"It's really the gift than anyone can give to anybody," Mr. Hirsch said.

So what's next for Chia? Mr. Hirsch and his colleagues are investigating, but be on the lookout for a Barack Obama head after the presidential inauguration.

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