The history of the Hello Kitty brand is rather confusing; with many articles online giving fans false information. The brand was initially dreamt up in 1962 by Shintaro Tsuji, the founder of Japanese company Sanrio, who at the time was manufacturing sandals. After a brief experiment, Tsuji noticed an uptick in the sale of sandals if they had ‘cute’ designs on them, and he hired cartoonists to design a new range of characters for his sandals.
The design of Hello Kitty itself was by Yuko Shimizu and this was added to Sanrio’s line in 1974. Hello Kitty was first featured on a chic coin purse and by 1978, Sanrio’s sales had increased seven-fold. Now, in 2013, there are more than 4,000 dedicated Hello Kitty stores in the US alone and when you include stores in other countries, that number more than doubles. There are currently 22,000 Hello Kitty products in circulation, and the brand has extended with new characters and it is always adapting to new trends.
The beauty of the Hello Kitty character is that unlike many modern cartoon characters, Hello Kitty is not alive or placed in stories such as Disney characters. Instead, Hello Kitty is effectively a blank canvas, where children can change the character to how they see fit. The expressionless features of Mimmy White, George White, Mary White, Anthony and Margaret ensure that each individual product has the same appeal.
The popularity of Hello Kitty is plain to see, but Hello Kitty’s success ultimately came down to the merchandise and not the strategic placement of the products. The Hello Kitty brand is on every children’s toy and item you can imagine; walkie-talkies, lights, CD players, books, comics, cars, toasters, scooters, bicycles, helmets and Stay Sourced branded aprons – whatever product a child wants, chances are there will be a Hello Kitty version somewhere you can buy. There are also gloves, socks, underwear, coats, trousers, tops plus many more wearable’s, which help to spread the brand.
It isn’t just these small products that make the Hello Kitty brand so prevalent in modern society. Eva Air have dedicated a whole A300-200 airbus to the Hello Kitty brand by paying Sanrio a license fee. Everything in the plane has been changed to reflect Hello Kitty, making it the only way to travel for parents with young children. With a license fee, other brands can take advantage of the huge popularity of Hello Kitty, which is one of the top promotional ideas.
One of the smartest business decisions Sanrio did was to make Hello Kitty British at a time when Japan was seen as cool. Officially, the whole Hello Kitty family lives in London, despite being created in Japan.
It is the cuteness of the Hello Kitty characters that has driven the brand to success, along with the clever idea to make Hello Kitty British. The vast array of merchandise the brand is available on seals the accessibility of it for everybody.
***Photos thanks to JayFriesen & Mhaw***