Your question's title certainly got my attention!
There are a number of theories about Kitty's appeal. One magazine
speculates that her appeal lies in her resemblance to the traditional
Geisha. Others attribute her popularity to her lack of mouth (and
thus lack of expression) - she can be whatever her owner wants her to
be. Her creators at Sanrio don't know exactly why she's so popular,
but intimate that it may have to do with the "innocence" the brand
"[...] if Hello Kitty?s appeal lies anywhere, it is in her femininity.
Examine the iconography of our icon. Not only is she small and
button-featured, she is also colourless. Anyone who has ever strolled
the streets of night-time Kyoto will recognise the look at once. Ms
Kitty?s chalk-white face is that of a geisha, the idealised (by men at
least) form of Japanese womanhood.
Like a geisha, Hello Kitty?s ghostly pallor is intended to suggest an
inactive life, one spent indoors baking cakes or practicing pianos.
Small mouths, drawn on in lipstick, also count as desirable in the
world of geishas. The semiotic message they send out is one of small
voices, never to be raised in anything as vulgar as disagreement with
men. Hello Kitty trumps this demureness by having no mouth at all:
whether she is pleased or appalled at the idea of her forthcoming
marriage to Dear Daniel we will never know, for she has no way of
telling us. The inference is that ? she being a mere cat/female ? it
doesn?t matter anyway.
By being neutral, white and character-devoid, in other words, Ms Kitty
has managed to become all things to all men."
"Hello Kitty has exhibited appeal to a vast and differentiated global
youth culture. And the truth is that the folks at Sanrio, including
President Tsuji and his marketing team, can?t really give you a
comprehensive and credible reason as to why Hello Kitty worked, while
so many of its other characters have faded from the scene. What makes
Kitty so intriguing is that she projects entirely different meanings
depending on the consumer. Figuring out what makes brands click, how
they migrate across borders, has long been the Holy Grail for market
Sage Classic Book Review: HELLO KITTY: The Remarkable Story of Sanrio
and the Billion Dollar Feline Phenomenon by: Ken Belson & Brian
Bremner, Wiley 2003
"The cat has no mouth, and this represents a major source of emotional
association for buyers, as they can project many different feelings
onto the little cat. The owner and the cat can be happy, sad,
thoughtful or any other feeling they want to be together."
Hello Kitty: Branding an idea and selling it to different segments
"It's simple. She's cute, exotic and a little mysterious. That's why
Kitty has lasted as long as she has, even though her biggest appeal is
to the most fickle of consumers -- little girls" said Richard
Lachmann, professor of sociology and an expert on popular culture with
the University of Albany.
"The word 'cute' is the most popular with every customer who walks
into the store, followed by 'Oh-my-god,'" said Huang."
Hello Kitty's a whisker away from 30
"Hello Kitty is purely targeted at girls. They form much stronger
emotional attachments from a young age, largely because their mothers
swaddle them in Hello Kitty pajamas and blankets.
Also, he said the character is just darn kawaii (Japanese for cute),
which is something Japanese females have long identified with and
aspired to be from childhood, as their culture puts a premium on
He added that, being only too aware of Hello Kitty's broad, nostalgic
appeal, Sanrio has steered clear of giving her any hint of
personality, so the biggest problem in her kindergarten world is
whether to have ice-cream or biscuits as a snack.
'But get really inside Sanrio and you will see just how very serious
they are in managing the brand on all levels. No sharp objects,
liquor, tobacco, drugs or sex products can have Hello Kitty on them.'
Any employee caught drunk-driving or embroiled in a sex scandal will
be fired on the spot."
Still Money In the Kitty
And for another data point: I remember Hello Kitty's insane
popularity 20 years ago, when I was in 8th grade. Like many girls at
that time, I loved Hello Kitty. She was just...*cute*. I still have
a fondness for Hello Kitty today - she evokes sweet and gentle
cheerfulness, which seems to be rare in today's world of loud angst,
and reminds me of a time when life seemed a lot simpler than it is
now. (This may be part of why she's enjoyed something of a popularity
revival lately. I know I'm not the only one with nostalgic affection
Hope this helps!
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