Even if you are not a fan, you should know who Hello Kitty is. The world’s cutest brand logo can be found everywhere – on products, shops, cars, airlines, restaurants and even a hospital. Kitty turned 40 recently, and remains as popular as ever. What is the secret of this pop icon’s enduring charm?
TO be exact, Hello Kitty’s birthday was on 1 November, 1974.
The fictional character was created by Yuko Shimizu for Japanese gift enterprise Sanrio, and first appeared on vinyl coin purses. Kitty has since gained phenomenal worldwide popularity, collecting fans that transcend geographical, ethnic and generational boundaries.
Commercially, Hello Kitty is, no doubt, an epic global success. The brand logo has adorned products of all conceivable kinds.
It has been suggested that if you don’t know Hello Kitty, you have probably been living under a rock.
Formula of success
WITH her feline features and oversized red bow on her forehead, Hello Kitty is obviously very lovable, even if her white moon face discloses no emotion. She has been described as “a cultural and marketing juggernaut on equal footing to icons such as Mickey Mouse and Count Chocula”.
What is the appeal of this “five apples high” little girl with no mouth, who can outshine so many other cartoon icons?
Any product or brand that has achieved such worldwide popularity must inevitably be indebted to globalisation, and Hello Kitty is no exception.
No identity is a good identity
Unlike Snoopy or Doraemon, Hello Kitty was not born as a comic or manga character, but purely as a brand logo design.
Her creator only gave her a sketchy background. On Sanrio’s Hello Kitty main page, the description is terse:
Hello Kitty “lives in the suburbs of London with her parents and twin sister Mimmy, who is her best friend. Her hobbies include baking cookies and making new friends. As she always says, ‘You can never have too many friends’. Her “real name” is listed as “Kitty White”; blood type: “A”.
Vagueness, in this case, is malleability, which is clearly a marketing advantage for Hello Kitty, making it easy for people to love her irrespective of their cultural heritage and ethnicity. It also lets her adopt an unlimited number of personas – from Statue of Liberty Kitty to Native American and veiled Indian beauty.
A face seen everywhere
FROM a marketing perspective, it is amazing that Hello Kitty has gained fame without much direct advertising. An image on millions of products turned out to be the most powerful method of promotion.
Kitty’s face appears on 50,000 different Hello Kitty products sold in over 60 countries, produced directly by Sanrio or under licence by partner companies.
Hello Kitty is ubiquitous. You can find her in toy stores, stationery shops, fashion boutiques, on cars, or as livery on commercial airliners.There are Hello Kitty theme parks and Kitty-themed restaurants and shops. There is even a Hello Kitty maternity hospital in Taiwan.
It is always said that a product needs a story to sell. The case of Hello Kitty shows that no story can sometimes be an even more effective marketing tool.
Cross-generational fan base
IN the 1970s and 80s, the Hello Kitty icon was used mostly on products targeting pre-teen girls, such as dolls, school stationery items, stickers and small gift items.
As first generation fans grew up, they did not lose their affection for Kitty, so related products grew into the adult market too – with Kitty toasters, televisions, jewellery, label apparels and cosmetics.
Meanwhile, Hello Kitty continued to charm the new young generation, and so it has continued, creating a fan base that is truly multi-generational.Fans include such celebrities as Canadian-French singer Avril Lavigne, 30, who expressed her Kitty love in a recent song of the same name.
WESTERN countries and brands have often been said to dominate global popular culture. Yet, Hello Kitty shows that the cultural influence of countries in the East can be just as powerful.
Hello Kitty epitomises kawaii, Japan’s unique cute and lovable culture, helping the country export its ‘soft power’.
The moon-faced emblem was appointed a UNICEF children’s ambassador way back in 1983, and has been Japan’s tourism ambassador to China and Hong Kong since 2008
1. Sanrio Corporation
2. Hello Kitty is not a cat – LA Times
3. Inside look at Japanese cute culture