Gerry Bymore, president and CEO of Bymore Enterprises, has never been one to back down from a challenge. In the aftermath of the second Gulf War, with the Bush administration soliciting proposals to rebuild the shattered land, a colleague of Bymore’s told him to stay clear of any place that had been “bombed into the Stone Age.” “I had a creative epiphany,” Bymore recalls. “I realized a golden opportunity lay in store.” He moved quickly, partnering with leading entertainment companies, engineering firms and Hanna Barbera to create a pitch the federal government enthusiastically endorsed. Within a year, Irock—or, as Bymore Enterprises calls it, “The Modern Stone Age Country”—was open for business, the first ever nation to be transformed into a major theme park.
With Irock’s citizens busy cutting their teeth on the new stone-based economy, Bymore’s team worked hard to flesh out the concept. Fun-Fur™ outfits were developed for the former citizens to wear. An immense zoo and animal-training centre was set up, just outside the newly rebranded capital Baghrock, to create a supply of wise-cracking animals to power record players, typewriters and other important communication devices. The facility also includes a genetic engineering laboratory, which Bymore promises will produce functional prehistoric breeds within five years.
Rebuilding infrastructure according to the new brand was cost-efficient and provided immediate employment for thousands of locals. “Because of Irock’s rich pre-civilization heritage,” Bymore observes, “hauling huge stones around by hand was a great way for citizens to get in touch with their roots.”
And since the former country’s fuel reserves were being used for other purposes, it only made sense for local cars to be hollowed out and outfitted with trap doors for drivers’ feet. “When customers see that Irockis actually power their vehicles by running really fast in a sitting position, it’s a magical moment,” Bymore says. “Our customers are really our most valued asset.” Under Bymore, this once foreboding exotic locale has become warmly familiar to North Americans.
When the Irock concept was first unveiled, it sparked a predictable response from the international community. Opponents claimed it would negatively impact local culture. Bymore admits to being confused by the uproar. “Park staff had just emerged from years of poverty and despair,” he says. “We gave them not only jobs, but a chance to remake and write themselves into the history books.” Bymore points to the “I Rock!” Self-Enabling Program, which the corporation set up to help former citizens make the transition to the country’s new identity.
“This kind of transition is unprecedented,” says program director Dr. Janine Felder. “Feelings of doubt and frustration are totally understandable. But we try to help them realize that for everything they’ve lost, there’s a gain for themselves, their new theme-park nation and the world.” She explains, “Irock was the birthplace of early civilization, so the Flintstones brand is very appropriate.” Dr. Felder has set up a library of the most hilarious episodes, which Irockis can consult free of charge whenever they feel unsure about the total concept.
“We ran into a little problem with the religion aspect,” Bymore allows. “A lot of people wanted to practice in public, and I respect that right, but it was interfering with the brand identity, and we were getting complaints from a lot of our customers. Try coming up with a rock-related pun for Islam sometime,” he adds with a chuckle.
The Irock team hit on the brilliant strategy of incorporating religious activity into the bigger picture. “Fred, Barney and many of the supporting characters belong to a secret society, the Loyal Order of the Water Buffalos. We realized that if we made houses of worship off-limits to customers, identifying them as Water Buffalo Lodges, we could give religious worshippers the privacy they needed while still maintaining brand consistency.”
Worshippers are required to wear Water Buffalo attire and utter the “Ack Acka Dak, Dak Daka Ack” password on their way in. “No one has any problem with it,” Bymore says. “It kinda sounds like the funny chants they do anyway.” Once inside, however, Irockis are free to practice as they please.
Since the success of Irock, the world has witnessed a phenomenal growth in branding, theme-park-nation building and good old-fashioned fun. Pundits have speculated on whether Irock is at the forefront of an emerging global trend. “Depending on the tides of history, there are a lot of opportunities in the region,” Bymore says. “Afghanistone, Pakistone—the possibilities are endless.” However, he warns potential investors that theme-park countries aren’t easy to set up. “We had an ideal situation in Irock. The country had been reduced to rubble, and that’s what we built on.”