In a world where you can actually have a Web site called Cute Overload, there may no longer be a place for a single mass-produced exemplar of cuteness. Which, if you’re Sanrio, is a major problem:
At age 36, Hello Kitty may be running out of product lives.
That is the fear of executives at the Sanrio Corporation, the Japanese company that created the cute, cartoonish white cat in 1974, and groomed her into a global marketing phenomenon worth $5 billion a year.
The numbers don’t look good:
In a closely watched ranking of Japan’s most popular characters, compiled each year using sales data by the Tokyo-based research firm Character Databank, Hello Kitty lost her long-held spot as Japan’s top-grossing character in 2002 and has never recovered.
In the latest survey, released this month, Kitty ranked a distant third, behind the leader, Anpanman, a character that is based on a Japanese jam-filled pastry and is produced by Nippon Television. The second spot is still held by the venerable game and animation brand Pokémon, owned by Nintendo.
Incidentally, we should not mock the Japanese for Anpanman, unless we’re willing to take the responsibility for the Hamburglar.
Besides, Japanese characters can be derived from just about anything. I spent part of last night reading up on a series called Durarara!!, among whose characters is a transplanted Dullahan, the Irish equivalent of the Headless Horseman. Except that it’s a she — and she rides a motorcycle. (Yes, she wears a helmet. No, I don’t know how it stays on.) I don’t think Celty Sturluson, or even Pokémon, can possibly replace Hello Kitty on eleventy-six bazillion different consumer products, but the recession notwithstanding, buying inexplicable stuff is an irreducible part of the human experience for any level above bare subsistence.