A Japanese Superbrand
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6/1/2007, 4:30 PM
‘Hello Kitty’ She (Hello Kitty) is the original, and it is hard to replace her. She became the icon of cute for a whole generation. You can’t buy that kind of lucky coincidence.1 – Ken Belson Co-author, Hello Kitty: The Remarkable Story of Sanrio and the Billion Dollar Feline Phenomenon, in 2004. Hello Kitty was propelled from day one by the character’s cute and simple design. After 30 years, we’re glad to see that people are still buying her products.2 – Bill Hensley Marketing Director, Sanrio Inc., in 2003.
Hello Kitty was the name of a cartoon cat developed in 1974 by Sanrio Co. Ltd. (Sanrio), a Japanese company that sold character-branded goods in Japan and other parts of the world. Sanrio initially used the character to adorn petty merchandise like coin purses and pencil boxes targeted at small girls. However, after Hello Kitty became hugely popular, Sanrio extended the brand to a variety of other products. By the early 2000s, Hello Kitty featured on products ranging from vacuum cleaners to DVD players, toilet paper to cars, and computers to candy, and was thought to be one of the most powerful brands in the world. This case discusses the reasons for the popularity of Hello Kitty, and tries to analyze the unique features of the brand. It also talks about the various steps Sanrio took over the years to revive and reinvent Hello Kitty when sales showed signs of flagging. The role of celebrity endorsements in creating brand value is also discussed. The case concludes with a commentary on Sanrio’s efforts to convert Hello Kitty into a luxury brand.
Hello Kitty Goes Luxe
In early 2005, Sanrio Co Ltd. (Sanrio), the Japanese company which created the popular cartoon cat Hello Kitty, entered into a licensing agreement with jewelry designer Kimora Lee Simmons’ (Simmons) company, Simmons Jewelry Co., to create a line of diamond jewelry— the “Hello Kitty Collection by Kimora Lee Simmons.” Simmons’ jewelry line, which included pendants, rings, and diamond watches, was priced in the range of $350 to $3,5003, and was launched in March 2005. The diamond watches, which were reportedly the best selling items in the line, were priced between $1,875 and $3,250 and were available in eight different designs. All of Simmons’ jewelry was available exclusively at NeimanMarcus outlets across the US. (Refer to Exhibit I for pictures of some of Simmons’ jewelry pieces). Diamond jewelry was only a small part of the Hello Kitty merchandising universe. The Hello Kitty brand was also used on designer apparel, accessories, and perfumes. High-end pet accessories were sold 1
under the label the “Hello Kitty Collection by Little Lilly” at upscale boutiques in the US. On the technology front, a Japanese company called Business Design Laboratory created a 20-inch tall Hello Kitty robot4 that could perform the job of front-desk personnel in the early 2000s. Apart from luxury products, consumers could also buy affordable products like Hello Kitty pencil boxes, purses, and apparel from various stores worldwide. Reportedly, as of early 2006, there were thousands of different Hello Kitty products available in over 40 countries around the world. Sanrio first introduced Hello Kitty in 1974, as an embellishment on a small coin purse sold by the company. Children, especially small girls, loved the cartoon and the cat became very popular. Keeping the character’s popularity in mind, Sanrio produced several Hello Kitty branded products, aimed at small girls and preteens over the late 1970s. However, during the 1980s, the growing popularity of other cartoon characters such as Doraemon (another cat) resulted in the Hello...
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