Hello Kitty is a curious brand. And that’s part of its strength. Far from killing this cat, a sense of mystery about its roots, its goals, its positioning and its audience have all helped breath life into this little cutie for several decades.
It has the feeling of something that has evolved rather than been manufactured and focus-grouped. It is something you first hear about through word of mouth rather than see advertised.
Part of the reason for this is that, quite surprisingly, until recently, it has never had a UK agent. This has meant that the programme has been controlled from Japan, by the company that created and owns Kitty, Sanrio. It also meant that joining the Kitty family has been relatively arduous and that the various licensees and their products have never been co-ordinated and overseen.
That changed a few months ago when Sanrio appointed Fluid World to represent Hello Kitty over here. Roberto Lanzi, Sanrio’s EMEA president, comments: “This is the very first time we have had a UK agent. Before I joined we never worked with any agents in Europe. I changed this in order to increase our marketing and maximise our sales. With local agents we are now able to prepare and realise local strategies.”
Fluid has worked fast, signing deals with a select number of licensees, including a recent tie-up with Mac which will see a range of Hello Kitty cosmetics launched in March next year.
Nearly 30 years ago, when Hello Kitty first came to Britain, it could only be found as a store-within-a-store concept at prestige outlets such as Harrods, Selfridges and Hamleys and contained only Sanrio’s own products.
Six year’s ago it embarked on a licensing programme and has slowly added partners ever since.
Fluid will now accelerate the process, but won’t be adopting anything like a turbo-charged scattergun approach. Kitty’s appeal may be broad, but the philosophy that Fluid shares with Sanrio is one of being extremely selective about the type of product and company it works with.
The strongest area for the brand is apparel and anything fashion-related (like the Mac cosmetics, for example), but it has also expanded recently into mobile phones, luggage and food (Kitty loves sweet things).
Lanzi says: “Sanrio’s motto since the beginning was ‘Small Gift, Big Smile’, but nowadays it’s more like ‘From 50 Cents, to $100,000’. Kitty really can sit at all levels of retail and price points.
“It is one of the very few brands in our industry that covers a 0-60 target age.”
Kitty, it seems, is a mass market brand with a cultish edge; more widely available than ever, but still far from the point of saturation.
Fluid is obviously simpatico with the brand values and with the balancing act of expanding the business without diluting its aspirational status.
Lanzi believes the firm will, in the next 12 months, elevate the UK from Kitty’s third biggest territory to the number one spot. It’s a relatively short journey that the Fluid team will be quietly confident of making, and one that it will complete not in a hurry, but certainly in style.