'Hello Kitty': A Japanese Superbrand

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Case Details:

Case Code : MKTG143
Case Length : 18 Pages
Period : 1974-2006
Organization : Sanrio Co. Ltd.
Pub Date : 2006
Teaching Note : Available
Countries : Japan and the US
Industry : Diversified

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This case study was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion. It is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation. Nor is it a primary information source.
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"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."

- 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."

- Bill Hensley, marketing director, Sanrio Inc., in 2003.

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 $3,500 , 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 Neiman-Marcus 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 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 robot 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 Kitty brand losing some of its appeal. Therefore, in the mid-1990s, Sanrio repositioned the brand to make it appealing to a wider age range of female customers. The repositioning was successful, and Hello Kitty regained its popularity.

Over the years, Sanrio launched the Hello Kitty brand in various countries in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas. In Southeast Asia, analysts noted that girls showed almost a fanatical devotion to the brand. Apart from Southeast Asia, Hello Kitty was also hugely popular in the US -so popular that she was considered to be in the same league as cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, and Winnie the Pooh. Such was Hello Kitty's popularity that she was chosen the UNICEF5 ambassador for the USA in 1983 and for Japan in 1994.

By the early 2000s, however, Hello Kitty began facing brand fatigue6 in its domestic market, Japan. In 2002, Winnie the Pooh replaced Hello Kitty as the best-selling character among female consumers in Japan. This in turn had an impact on Sanrio as Hello Kitty was the company's main brand and Japan its key market. In the early 2000s, Sanrio was trying to reposition the brand once again by associating it with jewelry and luxury products.

'Hello Kitty': A Japanese Superbrand - Next Page>>

1] Edward Gomez, "Pop: How Hello Kitty came to rule the world," http://www.sfgate.com, July 14, 2004.

2] Parija Bhatnagar, "Hello Kitty's a whisker away from 30," http://money.cnn.com, November 14, 2003.

3] Dollars ($) refer to US Dollars in this case study.

4] The robot could recognize as many as 10 faces, ask visitors to speak their names, and tell them when the person they had come to see was ready.

5] Established by the United Nations in 1946, UNICEF is the acronym for United Nation's Children's Fund.

6] Brand fatigue occurs when consumers get bored of a particular brand, after purchasing too many products of the same brand.


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