During my holiday in Rome last week, I walked into a Hello Kitty store, hunting for some nice items for my 2 daughters. You step into this kind of store thinking, ‘oh well they like this stuff, so maybe I’ll find something’. But there it hit me! Hello Kitty is no less impressive than Disney, come to think of it. I’d walk into a Disney Store with exactly the same idea: to walk away with something from this store is guaranteed success for my kids. Without having any research numbers at hand, I can almost guarantee that Hello Kitty’s “brand” awareness is as high as that of mighty Mickey Mouse, Barbie or Winnie The Pooh. An “icon” that sits amongst the great.
Little did I know that Hello Kitty is such a power brand, worth more than 5 billion dollars. Hello, Kitty. Come to daddy!
Hello Kitty (or actually “Kitty White” as is her Nov 1st 1974 birth name) is part of Sanrio, a relatively “average” design gifting company. But a company with a gold goose (actually, cat), so much is clear. The Hello Kitty portfolio ranges from stuffed animals to purses, hats, stickers, toasters, televisions, clothing, computer equipment, TV series and now Tokyo theme parks, condoms (yeah, don’t know about that), and Hello Kitty Airlines! To name a few. Hello Kitty is put on practically everything. All over the world. Profitably and growing. Imagine the impact the little kitten has had over 40 odd years on little girls and women alike. Impressive!
Why the success, I wonder? Here’s my take on it …
1. Simplicity goes a long way
Hello Kitty today looks exactly like Hello Kitty 40 years ago. Every design has a simple, almost minimalistic “essence”, whether it is designed for kids or for adults. Nothing needs to be added and nothing can be taken away. That simplicity opens the doors for universality, a big win! A kitten is one of the first and simplest thing that kids draw and it looks the same pretty much everywhere in the world. It’s as simple as cat
2. It’s an expression of pop-culture & cult
Hello Kitty’s versatility has led to an amazing cult-like following. It is almost “cool” as a 35-year old woman to walk around in a half-torn child-like Hello Kitty t-shirt or iphone cover. Especially in Japan where cartoon characters have always been part of adult life. Hello Kitty has hundreds of fan clubs around the world. Their facebook fan page has more than 10 million likes (double that of Mickey Mouse by the way). And… they spend ZERO on advertising. It is a viral worth-of-mouth brand, a true “lovemark”.
3. Appeals to the little girl in you
I’m guessing that Hello Kitty appeals to the days when women were little girls and enjoyed the idealized (cute, soft, romantic) Hello Kitty world. Hence, Hello Kitty has the power to bring back feelings of being young and free again. The interesting thing in my mind is that they have many adult “expressions” of that kid-like feeling (so you don’t have to embarrass yourself as an adult), e.g. Kimora Lee Simmons Hello Kitty diamond jewels.
4. They really went wide and deep, with great flexibility on merchandising rights
Few years after the launch of Hello Kitty Sanrio started exporting to the US, and guess what…it caught on. The merchandising machine started and years later, a global billion dollar brand equity appears. The sheer fact that you can find Hello Kitty on so many items probably contributed to the success. You almost can’t avoid it. And if you are shopping for some stuff for your kids, like I did, it’s almost impossible NOT to find something Hello-Kitty-cute for your daughters…the offering is so elaborate that I’m sure everyone can find what they are looking for.
Here’s what CNN reports on Hello Kitty:
And here’s a guy that knows a lot more about the Hello Kitty brand; Ken Belson. He devoted one year of his life writing a book about the global phenomenon that is Hello Kitty:
I would only have 1 question … with the change in how kids today grow up, with complex computer toys and all, how long with Hello Kitty’s global minimalistic and “flat” appeal stay on?
Thanks for stepping by and reading this post,