It Came From Japan

It Came From Japan
Hail to the Kitty

Erin Hoffman | 15 Apr 2008 14:32
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In this way Sanrio went on to create a vast retail empire straight out of thin air. Because they were effectively outsourcing all of their production, they could out-compete every other "fancy good" manufacturer by ensuring that for every product a competitor created, they had three other companies distributing higher quality versions of that same item. Sanrio, out of what they will tell you is an egalitarian desire to "give the gift of giving" regardless of age, makes products targeted at a very atomic level toward young children, specifically girls. They priced small, cheerfully branded items so that a child with little pocket money could afford to buy them, and in doing so define her personality by choosing what adorns her accessories. By keeping a tight rein on quality control, the company ensured that Sanrio characters only appeared on well-made merchandise and focused the rest of their attention on convincing the world of just how happy, upbeat and hip a company they were.

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And it worked. Today you can get a Hello Kitty credit card or fly to Asia on a Hello Kitty airplane. There's the infamous Hello Kitty "personal massager," and, for the truly dedicated copyright infringer, the Hello Kitty assault rifle. The less enterprising will have to settle for Hello Kitty tattoos or scarification. But a picture's worth a thousand words; take a look at one YouTube user's kitty collection, and you'll see that Earth, it really is full of things. Hello Kitty things.

Social Capital
Sanrio cornered two sides of a growing market that even today continues to boom. By focusing on enhancing social experience, Sanrio was engaging in advanced community building long before the internet boom or the concept of viral marketing. Their commercialized social engineering captured two key concepts: self expression and exchanging social capital.

By deliberately keeping their brands as devoid of personality as possible (for decades very little was known about Hello Kitty, and her appearance changes from year to year), Sanrio deliberately leaves their products open to their customers' interpretation. This intense diversity, and the diversity with which Hello Kitty herself can be presented and still remain an identifiable brand - whether she is UNICEF Ambassador Kitty, Angel Kitty or even Robo Kitty - is the heart of the self expression customers engage in when selecting Hello Kitty products, an activity that just so happens to cooperate perfectly with obsessive shopping.

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