Who didn’t hear at least once about Hello Kitty? We see the symbol on all kinds of products like wallets, watches, deodorant sprays, handkerchiefs, lunchboxes, puppets, toys, clothing, cell phones, even cars (the car company Mira from Japan built a Hello Kitty car). The sweet little cat with no mouth is more than just a well-known brand: it represents a global marketing phenomenon.
Although it is a common symbol, not many people know the entire story of Hello Kitty.
The cute character was first designed by Yuko Shimizu for the Japanese company Sanrio. The absence of mouth gave birth to all sorts of urban legends, but the explanations of her creators are rational. Hello Kitty has no mouth and is, thus, expressionless in order to allow people who love her to project their feelings onto her face. They can be happy and sad together with the little cat. Another explanation is that she “speaks from her heart” and thus isn’t bound to any particular language because she is universal. The word hello in her name is a reference to her social communication quality.
Hello Kitty was first created to appeal to preteen girls. The idea was that when little girls will become adults and mothers they will introduce the sweet kitty from their childhood to their own children. The little cat was accompanied by a short biography. According to Sanrio the real name of Hello Kitty is actually Kitty White because she is a British 3rd grader who lives with her family in London. Her date of birth is November 1st, 1974 and she has a twin sister. The only differences between sisters is the color of their ribbons. Hello Kitty has a red one, while Mimmy has a blue one. Hello Kitty loves baking cookies and apple pie is her favorite food.
Presence on the market
In Japan, Hello Kitty became a real success almost instantly when it was first introduced by Sanrio on a vinyl coin purse in 1974. In 1976 the character was conquering the U.S market followed soon after by other Asian countries and finally by the rest of the world.
In time, Hello Kitty became a favorite icon for different people. It has gradually been the symbol of a fashion diva, a pop culture icon, a tourism ambassador (in 2008 the Tourism Ministry of Japan choose Hello Kitty to represent the country in Hong Kong), a cause-related symbol as “UNICEF Special Friend of Children” (in 2004 Hello Kitty raised $150,000 for UNICEF’s female education programs) and so on.
The other side of success
The huge success of Hello Kitty also had reverse effects. The brand had some period of drops in the late 1970s and in the mid-1990s (Japan entered at that time in a long economic slump). In 2000, the brand rebounded because of the Hello Kitty trend among Hollywood stars.
Some analysts say that Hello Kitty was used on far too different products which lead to an oversold Hello Kitty that threatens the brand’s longevity.
Furthermore, the brand encounters some consistency gaps. Because it had no mouth, Hello Kitty couldn’t be used as a character in a television animation. Also, the Hello Kitty’s Guide to Japan published in English and Japanese gave birth to some disputes. In the book, Hello Kitty is introducing Japan to her American boyfriend Dear Daniel. Hello Kitty is presented as living in Japan with her family that speaks only Japanese, in contradiction with her British origins.
Nonetheless, Hello Kitty is still one of the most recognizable and beloved brands of the moment. Do you have any products branded with Hello Kitty?
Sanrio’s president, Shintaro Tsuju, with a Hello Kitty mascot. Photo source: nytimes
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