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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #207: April 13, 2004

EU hires Hello Kitty to promote friendship in Japan

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"EU hires Hello Kitty to promote friendship in Japan"
(AFP) EU Business


"Hello Kitty" is a popular character created by Sanrio Co. in Japan, and the article reports that now the EU, at its Tokyo office, is joining those to create their own version of the character to promote the familiarity with the EU in Japan.

Japanese cartoons and comic strips have created a significant number of world-class characters, though they may be recognized by just kids most of the time without knowing that they were created in Japan. But it has become a big business on its own, and has served as lubricants in many business scenes. Senior government officials and corporate executive from abroad on a trip to Japan for tough negotiations often confess that at least some part of their time here must be devoted in obtaining "authentic" Pokemon goods, or some other characters as a souvenir to their children.

The size of the character goods industry in Japan is estimated at 2 trillion yen, or 18 billion dollars, and there are indications that this is just a beginning, still expected to expand and grow significantly in the global perspective.

Among a number of popular characters, Hello Kitty is unique in its own way. It is the most popular of the type of characters that have no specific movies or comic books they have originated from. Some explain that as they are not bound by specific stories, they allow people with different cultural backgrounds to infuse their own emotions into the characters. Sanrio, the creator and owner of the rights to Hello Kitty, has deliberately avoided advertisements or providing personality to enhance her character. That simplicity, Sanrio considers, has been a major reason of success, as Hello Kitty's expressionless gaze lets people project what they want on her. Or as another comment puts it, she is sending out different streams of meaning to different types of consumers, and becoming a mirror that reflects back anything consumers want to see.

That is precisely the reason why Hello Kitty, since her introduction 30 years ago, has been assigned to promote various products and events. From being dressed as flight attendants in airline campaigns to leading a parade in local festivals, and all that on top of the sales of the stuffed figure of Hello Kitty herself and a long list of goods from candies to cars resembling her image. It seems kids, and women especially, of just about anywhere on the globe, simply adore her.

It could be a good choice for the EU, Tokyo to employ Hello Kitty to promote its image in Japan, especially to women and children who have not really had the knowledge of the super-national structure, and at this extraordinary juncture of expanding its scope from 15 to 25 countries.

As a matte of fact, it might be not a bad idea for not only the Tokyo office but the whole EU to adopt Hello Kitty as their image promotion character world-wide. It should definitely appeal to children, including those of within the EU. In fact, using a Japanese character for the purpose would enable by-passing all that political hassle and quarrels if some figure or character from any part of the EU were to be purposed to represent the whole EU, or something from the US for that matter.

For those interested, there is a book in English analyzing Hello Kitty and its ramifications, by well versed writers, Ken Belson and Brian Bremner, titled "Hello Kitty: The Remarkable Story of Sanrio and the Billion Dollar Feline Phenomenon."

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications