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Hello Kitty: A Marketing Sensation Grows Up

Hello Kitty is celebrating three decades of being what the Japanese call 'kawaii,' or almost too cute for words.
Hello Kitty is celebrating three decades of being what the Japanese call 'kawaii,' or almost too cute for words.
Vickie Pan poses with Hello Kitty dolls at her shop in Pittsburgh.
Susan Stone, NPR /
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Vickie Pan poses with Hello Kitty dolls at her shop in Pittsburgh.

She has a net worth in the billions, she's been given a special honorary title by UNICEF, she has her own theme park in Japan and her image graces thousands of products, from 50-cent stickers to expensive jeweled purses. And though she's turning 30, she's likely to remain forever young.

Hello Kitty, that marketing phenomenon from the Japanese company Sanrio, made her debut Nov. 1, 1974. The little white cat with no mouth was initially aimed at young girls. But as NPR's Susan Stone reports, Hello Kitty has found a much wider audience, from Hello Kitty credit cards to a rolling suitcase or a TV set. She's also moved into mainstream America, from Target stores to Payless Shoes.

Her appeal is unquestionably broad. A Google search for "hello kitty" yields more than 1.5 million results. But what makes her so popular?

Ken Belson, who co-authored a book about Hello Kitty, describes her as "the Zen cat," saying: "She just is... Hello Kitty is whatever you want her to be."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.