After Japan, Singapore was the first to suffer an outbreak. The infection? Hello Kitty mania. In 2000, a shortage of toys displaying the beloved cat at one of the city’s McDonald’s restaurants led to the unleashing of darker, violent instincts when a riot ensued. Seven people were injured and three taken to hospital for treatment. That was just the beginning.
Now, what is left of our species, children and adults alike, have succumbed, making ‘Kitty chan’, as she is better known in Japan, one of the most recognisable graphics on Earth. Hello Kitty turns 40 this autumn, and we can now see that she was the Trojan Horse that led to the global domination of Japanese ‘cute culture’. From Marrakech to Honolulu, the ubiquitous red-ribboned cat now stands top-tier in any toy display. Googling Mickey Mouse reaps about 23 million results. Search Hello Kitty, however, and you’ll find the kitten, which is basically just a narrative-free, trademarked drawing, garners 10 million more.
Kitty-shaped guitars and even Hello Kitty tombstones abound. The famous feline, originally drawn by designer Yuko Shimizu to appeal to kindergarten children, has been adopted as a style icon by the likes of Lady Gaga. Remarkably, such world-domination has been achieved with little advertising; relying instead on word-of-mouth. Now Hello Kitty appears on over 50,000 products that are sold in more than 70 countries, and is a brand worth $7bn. The company that holds the copyright, Sanrio, makes around $759m in annual revenue off the cat alone. So, why have we all become such pushovers for the feline?