8 Nov 2014

Hello Kitty turns 40

From This Way Up, 1:45 pm on 8 November 2014

"The design for Hello Kitty is quite elegant in its abstraction, it's a very clean design originally in primary colours. It starts with that, but it doesn't end there...I think what has brought so many people to Hello Kitty has been the kind of flexibility that the company has given her...so that Hello Kitty can be placed in all kinds of guises and all kinds of situations. And the way I like to think of it is that she's always the same, and always different." - Professor Christine Yano

In an age where the cat video has become killer content, she might just be the world's most famous feline!

Hello Kitty turns 40 this year and the cartoon cat is wearing her age well. In fact you can't really tell how old she is, and perhaps that's part of Hello Kitty's appeal.

For those unfamiliar with Hello Kitty she's a cute-looking, stylised cat drawn with whiskers, and a trademark bow over one ear. But Hello Kitty is drawn without a mouth; it's an omission explained by Hello Kitty's makers, Sanrio as follows: 'Hello Kitty speaks from her heart. She’s Sanrio's ambassador to the world and isn't bound to any particular language.' 

Nowadays you can find Hello Kitty's image on just about everything, from purses and bags to toilet paper and even engine oil! She has TV shows and two Japanese theme parks in her honour. All this translates into big money, with estimates the character generates somewhere between US$5-7 billion in revenues for Sanrio every year. Not bad when it doesn't have to spend a cent on advertising!

Last weekend, the world's first Hello Kitty Convention sold out with more than 20,000 people turning up over four days. Now a related exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles has opened to the public.

Simon Morton speaks to Professor Christine Yano of the University of Hawaii, who is one of the exhibition's curators,  about Hello Kitty's enduring global appeal.