Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

How Hello Kitty Went From Cute to $7 Billion Cultural Phenomenon

Hello Kitty, the ubiquitous, anthropomorphic white cat produced by Japanese company Sanrio was the quintessential emblem of cute in Japanese popular culture.

But by the time she was 40 years old in 2014, Sanrio had groomed her into a global marketing phenomenon worth $7 billion a year.

Originally aimed at pre-adolescent females, Hello Kitty’s market has broadened to include adults, and can be found on products ranging from school supplies to fashion accessories to high-end consumer products… and then some.

So what sort of marketing strategy did this mouthless cat use to become one of the most recognized corporate logos in the world?

1. Be relatable to your target market

While being cute makes up most of her appeal to young female consumers, Hello Kitty’s winning formula lies in her relatability. She is said to have no mouth so that fans can project their own feelings onto her face.

Sanrio also commits to the brand fully by creating a backstory to the character, coming up with an entire family with qualities, likes and dislikes easily identified with by the target market.

This strategy proves more effective than the previous inanimate logos Sanrio experimented with.

hello-kitty-family

From left to right: grandma Margaret enjoys sewing, mother Mary is a good cook, father George is described as absent-minded, grandpa Anthony is a storyteller, sister Mimmy dreams of marriage and Kitty is a multi-billion dollar empire

The result? Fans are able to feel a sort of kinship with Hello Kitty. She’s just like one of us!

2. Collaborate with other well-established brands– shoes, clothes and cosmetics– to refresh image and remain relevant

Working with other well-established brands can be highly beneficial for both parties. Hello Kitty’s image gives the collaborator a fresh new look, and at the same time strengthens her position as design maverick.

Collaboration is also a surefire way to keep Hello Kitty relevant in popular consciousness and maintain her status as a cultural icon. Companies that have worked with our favourite feline include:

Vans:

hello-kitty-vans-shoes

MAC cosmetics:

hello-kitty-mac-cosmetics

Uniqlo:

hello-kitty-unique

The result? Fans are constantly delighted by the different reincarnations of their favourite cat.

These capsule collections also create an air of exclusivity that is bound to generate buzz through word-of-mouth.

3. Dream big – make your mark on larger and larger things

For something so adorable, this cat is ruthlessly ambitious.

Hello Kitty first made her appearance on a coin purse in a bid to decorate Sanrio’s humdrum products, but not merely content to only grace humble merchandise, Hello Kitty soon extended her influence to…

Planes:

hello-kitty-plane

Theme parks:

hello-kitty-theme-park

Hotels:

hello-kitty-hotel

Celebrities:

hello-kitty-celebrity

The result? Pure incredulity from fans and non-fans alike, and super high visibility of the brand. What else will she conquer? This cool cat can’t be stopped!

4. Controversy sells – keep surprising your fanbase to generate buzz

hello-kitty-not-a-cat

Sanrio shocked the world in 2014 when it announced that Hello Kitty… is not a cat! Following speculations that she is human, a Sanrio spokesperson clarified that she is a personification, or an anthropomorphization. Not quite human, but not quite a cat either.

Confused? So were fans worldwide, with many taking to the Internet to question everything they’ve ever believed in.

The result? While many were not happy with this announcement, it is undeniable that any publicity is good publicity.

Here’s a quick recap on how the Hello Kitty brand rose to become a multi-billion dollar cultural phenomenon over 4 decades:

  1. Create a relatable brand. Bonus points if it’s cute.
  2. Collaborate with other established brands to maintain visibility and refresh image
  3. Set your sights high
  4. Keep surprising your fanbase, keep them talking

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Read next: How You Can Replicate Star Wars’ $7 Billion Marketing Success

Izzy Liyana Harris

Izzy Liyana Harris

Creature of the night. Always hungry for adventure, sugar, good literature. Seeking inner peace.

1 comment

  • Thank you for these tips Izzy! Great example on using hello kitty. In marketing, your number one priority is your customers. Better market your brand to people who can relate to it. Specify your target customers and relate to their situations. Another great insight given to the marketers. Great post!