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Small Gift, Big Brand: Sanrio's Hello Kitty Celebrates 45 Years

Small Gift, Big Brand: Sanrio's Hello Kitty Celebrates 45 Years

How a cherished traditional brand continues to elevate, expand and evolve 45 years after its introduction to pop culture.

SANRIO'S GLOBALLY BELOVED Hello Kitty brand is poised to celebrate its landmark 45th anniversary in 2019 with an expansive licensing program, a lively multicity tour and a laser-sharp focus on the future while maintaining the deep traditional elements of the brand's cherished heritage.

Originated in Japan in 1960 by Shintaro Tsuji, Sanrio was one of the preeminent companies that not only leveraged, but heavily incorporated, Japan's kawaii culture, which holds an affinity for all things "cute" (think pastel colors, adorable characters). And the 1974 introduction of Hello Kitty undeniably helped spread the love of kawaii across the globe.

"If you ever visit Japan, one of the first things you may notice is that attention to detail in everything from packaging to presentation to product," says Craig Takiguchi, chief operating officer, Sanrio. "It's a form of communication for Japanese culture beyond just language, and that became the foundation for our brand."

Sanrio's "small gift, big smile" motto is the driving force behind all of its brands, especially Hello Kitty.

"Our motto is 'small gift, big smile,' and it really hinges upon the Japanese tradition of hospitality and the spirit of gift-giving," says Takiguchi. "So, 'small gift, big smile' is not only iconic in our heritage at Sanrio, but it goes back hundreds and hundreds of years in Japanese culture."

Hello Kitty's storied licensing journey began in the early 1980s, and one of the brand's first licensing partners was CBS Toys, which developed a toy and plush line. But it wasn't until hundreds of Hello Kitty retail locations began to crop up in the 1990s that Hello Kitty's licensing program took flight. And take flight it did.

Throughout the years, the brand's megawatt partners have included the likes of McDonald's (global Happy Meal program partner), Macy's (various apparel collections) as well as PUMA, FILA and Converse (apparel, accessories and footwear). Other key partners include Mattel, Funko, KidRobot and GUND (toys); PBteen (home); Hybrid (apparel); Loungefly (accessories); and American Greetings (greeting cards), among many others.

"We have more than 200 licensees at the moment," says Takiguchi. "We have an extensive reach–more than 130 countries. Each region has specific licensees who localize and market the brand, and here in North America, we have more than 200 partners."

Sanrio seeks Hello Kitty licensees that value innovation, further propelling the brand into the future and helping to cement it as a fan-favorite among a new generation of consumers...

Read the full article in the latest issue of License Global Magazine.

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