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The marketing whiz behind chia pets and their iconic commercials has died

A lone Chia Pet sits on a shelf, a titan of 80's kitsch.
Noah Berger
/
AP
A lone Chia Pet sits on a shelf, a titan of 80's kitsch.

Joseph Pedott was ahead of the wave on ch-ch-ch-chia seeds, TV advertising, and plants as the new pets.

Who is he? Joseph Pedott was an advertising executive and entrepreneur, best known for introducing Chia Pets to consumers after coming across the invention at a trade show in the late 1970's.

  • Pedott was born in Chicago, and had a difficult childhood.
  • Following his mother's death at 13, Pedott fled his abusive father at 16, and subsequently lived at a YMCA.
  • Through the help of a Chicago nonprofit, Pedott was able to attend college at The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and went on to start his own advertising firm.
  • Pedott's experience in the advertising world and his product savvy helped drive the huge growth of chia pets, but he also worked on other iconic products like the clapper light switch. ("Clap on, clap off.")
  • Pedott died on June 22 at the age of 91 in San Francisco, according to the New York Times.
  • What's the big deal? I can't put this more clearly: ch-ch-ch-chia!

  • In 1977, Pedott attended a housewares convention, where he stumbled upon the rudimentary version of a chia pet, a terra cotta figure with 'fur' made from chia seed sprouts.
  • He took a liking to the product, and thought it simply "needed better advertising." So, he bought the rights and all of the product inventory for $25,000, and went on to create one of the most infectious ad campaigns of the late 20th century.

  • Want more on business? Listen to Consider This on how the prospect of manufacturing goods in America is trickier than it sounds.


  • Pedott also forecast the trend of people turning toplants as their new pets, a cultural phenomenon that took off during the pandemic.
  • Pedott's company, Joseph Enterprises, estimated in 2018 that they had sold more than 25 million chia pets in the U.S. alone, making them a hugely popular pet option for Americans over the past few generations. 
  • What are people saying?

    Here's Pedott on his reaction when he first saw the Chia pet:

    The first one I ever saw was very crude — it had scorch marks from the oven, and only three of its legs could touch the surface at once — but I liked it.

    And his business wisdom in an interview with the National Museum of American History:

    Ideas are the cheapest thing in the world. It's executing them that gets involved.

    So, what now?

  • Pedott was committed to giving back to the social services that supported him growing up, and donated to student assistance programs and funds for low-income, first-generation college students.
  • His approach to business was similarly generous: he was always open to funding new ideas, and working with inventors to make their products a success.
  • Learn more:

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  • Shein invited influencers on an all-expenses-paid trip. Here's why people are livid
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.
    Kai McNamee