How the image of a cat with a bow turned into the most recognizable Hello Kitty brand
It's hard to find a person who has never seen the cute cat Hello Kitty. It is everywhere - on clothes, bags and wallets, in cartoons and video games. There is even a chain of cafes in Seoul dedicated to this character and bearing his name. In 2019, the Hello Kitty media franchise was recognized as the second most popular in the world, after Pokemon. Who invented this character and what is the secret of his fantastic success?
Surprisingly, the forever young cat with a red bow will celebrate her half-century anniversary in 2024. It was invented and drawn back in 1974 by Japanese illustrator Yuko Shimizu. The character appeared for a reason - he was ordered by the owner of the Sanrio souvenir company, Shintaro Tsuji.
The businessman put forward a requirement for the drawing. It had to be simple and memorable, cute and touching. Sanrio's motto is "Great joy lies in a humble gift" and the character had to fit into this concept.
Tsuzu was going to decorate his collection of products with a new image, which included handbags, wallets, and school pencil cases. Hello Kitty first appeared on a cheap vinyl coin purse. Customers liked the product. As Sanrio developed dynamically, its range soon expanded to include clothing, toys, household appliances and even jewelry. And a cat with a bow and a yellow button nose decorated these products.
Over time, cartoons and TV shows with Hello Kitty appeared, and then many video games. Many consider this growth in the popularity of the brand a phenomenon. But there is nothing supernatural about it. The cat just appeared at the right time in the right place. The 70s, which saw the greatest surge of interest in this hero, were a special time. In the West, dark punk culture was gaining strength. And Japan represented the other pole and was drawn to everything cute, childish and funny.
It was in the mid-70s of the last century that the “kawaii” culture arose in the Land of the Rising Sun, with which many still associate Japan. The white cat was a perfect fit for this culture and Shintaro Tsuji wasted no time. He promoted the brand and in a short time made it a real hit.
Many people are interested in why the cat doesn’t have a mouth in any of the images. This is simply explained - its absence makes the muzzle neutral. Everyone can come up with their own mood for the hero. Some people find Kitty perky, others thoughtful and even sad. It all depends on the person.
True, at first the cat’s name was Kitty White and only a couple of years later it was renamed Hello Kitty. Over the years of the existence of this character, he was portrayed in different ways. In dresses, trousers, in the form of a cook, doctor, soldier and even a miner. But Hello Kitty has never been seen on four limbs, as befits a cat.
Having successfully survived the 80s, the cat began to lose popularity in the 90s. To save the situation, Sanrio decided to play on the nostalgia of the older generation. A huge number of children's toys have appeared on sale. Parents, remembering their childhood with Kitty, bought them for their children. The cat was saved and by the early 2000s she was already feeling very confident in the market again.
There are always some rumors and fables circulating around famous brands. Hello Kitty was no exception. At one time there was a story that the cat was invented by a Chinese occultist, and the devil himself helped her in this. This is precisely the secret of the character’s popularity. Fortunately, most people believe more in the power of marketing than in black magic. Therefore, this stupid rumor did not affect the brand's reputation.
Everyone knows that the cat, created 50 years ago by a Japanese artist, still feels great. And how was the life of her “mother” - Yuko Shimizu? Logically, a woman should become a millionaire thanks to her iconic character. But oddly enough, Hello Kitty did not make the artist rich.
Yuko Shimizu has transferred all rights to her drawing to Sanrio. And in 1976 she married an American and moved to the USA. Now Yuko and her husband own a jewelry business and create precious jewelry of incredible beauty. The couple is not in poverty and they have no complaints about Sanrio. By the way, as of today, Hello Kitty has brought the Japanese company more than $100 billion in profit.