Hello Kitty has just turned 40 and like her or hate her, she has become a universally recognised iconic figure symbolising Japan’s ‘Kawaii’ or ‘cute’ culture. Just in case you are not familiar with the famous animated feline here are some facts to bring you up to speed. Hello Kitty is an anthropomorphic white cat wearing a red bow. She has no mouth and no real background story nor personality, and yet millions of international fans are enamoured with her and purchase all manner of Hello Kitty paraphernalia (I must admit that I own a Hello Kitty t-shirt and a Hello Kitty pink purse).
Created in a design contest back in 1974 by Japanese designer Yuko Shimizu, Hello Kitty’s first commercial foray was her image on a clear, plastic coin purse. She entered the American market in 1976 and by 2010 Hello Kitty had become a global marketing phenomenon. Today, she is worth $7 billion a year with no signs of slowing down. It seems Hello Kitty was made to be put on products and Australia is no exception to the Hello Kitty madness. Sanrio Co, the Japanese company who own the rights to Hello Kitty, sell licensing rights to retailers such as Target, Myer and Jay Jay’s who carry Hello Kitty clothing and merchandise for kids and adults. Indeed, people of all ages seem to have fallen for the charming moggy. Head into China Town, Sydney, and Hello Kitty will be hard to miss, multiples of her cute face staring out from the many Asian pop culture nooks.
There is not a day that goes by where I don’t see someone rocking Hello Kitty. She’s on shoes, jewellery, painted on nails, iphone and ipad covers, bed spreads, biscuits, cars and even has her own Hello Kitty Visa reward card. The Japanese American National Museum have just opened the first large-scale Hello Kitty retrospective in the United States celebrating Hello Kitty’s colourful history and influence on pop culture. You can even fly on a Hello Kitty fully-customised jet with Taiwanese airline Eva Air. But even Hello Kitty hasn’t been able to avoid the sharp claws of controversy when it was recently revealed by Sanrio that Hello Kitty is not actually a cat (gasp), rather a ‘happy little girl with a heart of gold’. Afterall, she walks and sits like a two-legged person. You can only imagine the disappointment, outrage and denial raining down on social media. People were in shock tweeting things like ‘So Hello Kitty isn’t a cat? Everything I know is a lie’.
Apart from the cat-astrophic identity revelation, some ‘experts’ have suggested that Hello Kitty’s universal appeal lies in the fact that being mouthless with a zen-like disposition makes her a blank canvas upon which you are able to make Hello Kitty your very own friend or unique companion. For whatever reason, Hello Kitty seems to inspire and delight the world over and what started out as a short interest piece has opened my eyes to the endless marketing potential and pop culture appeal of this 40 year old Japanese icon. I reckon I could write a PHD on Hello Kitty! Stay tuned – the next instalment is just a whisker away!
Article sponsored by Energy Power Systems