The Cat is a Lie! Branding Lessons from Sanrio’s Shocking Hello Kitty Revelation

An image of Hello Kitty stuff toy sitting down

As if the world hasn’t had enough of political and social problems, Japanese company Sanrio has recently announced that the phenomenal pop culture icon we know and love as Hello Kitty is in fact — pause — not a kitty!

(Cue dramatic music, thunder and the Seven Horsemen of the Apocalypse)

That’s right, folks. The character that has permeated items from purses and lunchboxes, to cartoons and video games is not what she appears to be because she is actually “a little girl with a heart of gold,” says Sanrio.

But people who have been well acquainted with her catlike whiskers and catlike nose and catlike ears since 1974 are having none of it. We might expect Kitty-related riots in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the B2B marketing world has also felt the impact of this (childhood shattering) announcement that sheds light on how companies develop their brands for a more efficient lead generation campaign.

Indeed, the Sanrio Revelation was shocking, but somehow reflects important insights into the nature of modern product branding and content marketing.

Efficient storytelling.

So, despite her name and physical features, Hello Kitty is actually a girl living in England who goes by the name of Kitty White. Plus, she owns a pet cat, which is a fact that aggravated talks over her possible fondness for slavery. While we could spend sleepless nights thinking it over, we can only assume that Sanrio has put in a lot of effort in giving Kitty (or Ms. White) a personality and a relatable backstory to boot.

Viral potential.

“The plot twist to end all plot twists” was first picked up by an American anthropologist and then by an LA newspaper. After the latter posted an online version of the story, the issue instantly sparked off outrage and existential debates in various social media platforms. This only demonstrates the minimal amount of time it took to turn simple product declarations and ideas into trending topics and there is a constant need to leverage such immediacy.

Consumer affinity.

Sanrio has made compelling reasons why it calls Hello Kitty a human. In fact, they might have a point in wanting her to transcend animalistic dimensions. Sanrio believes that Hello Kitty is not just a brand or a face on a wallet. It simply wants to point out that, given her loyal fanbase, she deserves the same affection as we do for pets whom we call our equals. Effective branding entails such a close relationship between seller and buyer. The same goes to targets for both inbound and outbound marketing campaigns.

The storm over Hello Kitty’s true nature may not stay for long. We could get used to it. But we can never deny the strong impact and appeal that the adorable character has nurtured over the years.

What the storm demonstrates is that we have already revered her as an icon and a human heritage treasure that brand marketers can look up to.