For many, Hello Kitty represents the innocence of childhood. But it is also a very successful business story, with its face on millions of products that bring in billions of dollars a year. What made it such a success?
DESIGNED by Japanese (日本的) gift company Sanrio, the familiar brand logo was first used on a cheap purse in 1974. Hello Kitty turned 40 last year and there have been celebrations worldwide.
A major one was the world premiere of a Hello Kitty fan convention, a first-of-its-kind museum exhibition held between 30 October and 2 November 2014 in ‘Little Tokyo’ in downtown Los Angeles (洛杉磯). The event is part of the global ‘Share a Hug with Hello Kitty’ campaign to spread the message of friendship.
HELLO KITTY is not just a cute cartoon character. It is also a hugely successful brand. When it first appeared on purses, each only sold for just a few dollars. But annual sales of Hello Kitty merchandise now amounts to tens of billions of dollars.
The cartoon character adorns over 50,000 kinds of products, selling in 60 countries. These include those targeting children as well as adults, from stationery items to high-end clothing and jewellery. Hello Kitty’s face was even painted on a few planes owned by Taiwan’s (台灣) EVA Airways.
Meet Hello Kitty
AT the start, Hello Kitty was known only as “the white cat with no name”. But Sanrio later revealed that Hello Kitty is not even her real name; it should be Kitty White according to the maker’s official character profile. She is five apples high and weighs three apples.
The profile also tells us that Kitty lives in the suburbs of London (倫敦) with her mother and twin sister Mimmy. She likes to bake cookies and make new friends.
There was a small debate over whether Kitty is a cat or a little girl. But Sanrio eventually put the argument to rest by saying “It's going too far to say that Hello Kitty is not a cat”.
Kawaii and more
HELLO KITTY is a prime example of Japan’s ‘kawaii’ culture. Meaning “lovable, cute or adorable”, ‘kawaii’ was formally included in the Collins English Dictionary last year. It is defined as the Japanese artistic and cultural style that emphasises the quality of cuteness, using bright colours and characters with a childlike appearance.
Kawaii aside, there are other reasons explaining people’s enduring affection for Kitty. Japanese animation and comics expert Helen McCarthy believes it is because “Hello Kitty stands for the innocence and sincerity of childhood and the simplicity of the world”.
Or perhaps having no mouth is her most endearing quality – “she speaks from the heart”, explains Sanrio.
Yuko Shimizu, a survivor of World War II, created Hello Kitty. After leaving Sanrio in 1976, she became a freelance designer. Her latest cartoon creation is the French Bulldog.
Sanrio was founded in 1960 by chemist Shintaro Tsuji who had an unhappy childhood after losing his mother at a young age. He wanted to use his company to foster the culture of gift-giving.
The Bank of America began offering Hello Kitty current accounts from 2009 and holders can get Hello Kittythemed cheques and debit cards.
Sanrio President and COO Janet Hsu said Hello Kitty has always been about providing happiness, friendship and fun to the world.
Sanrio’s theme park, Sanrio Puroland, was opened in 1990. It features Sanrio’s most popular characters, with Hello Kitty as its star draw.
Canadian singer Avril Lavigne released a song called Hello Kitty in 2013. Some said the song was racist towards the Japanese, but Lavigne maintained it was an expression of her love for Hello Kitty.