Close this search box.
Hello Kitty in China

Hello Kitty in China: Case study of an iconic character

Hello Kitty, a well-known Japanese character that is enormously popular in China. Today it appears on every conceivable product, ranging from pencil cases and chainsaws to passenger jets. The phenomena of Hello Kitty in China is worth studying because of its success and popularity among women and children.

Hello Kitty’s history

Hello Kitty is a fictional character produced by the Japanese company Sanrio, first designed by Yuko Shimizu. She is portrayed as a female white Japanese bobtail cat with a red bow. In 2014, Sanrio declared that Hello Kitty was not a cat, but a little girl. The character’s first appearance on a product was on a vinyl coin purse. It was introduced in Japan in 1974 and brought to the United States in 1976. The character is a staple of the ‘Kawaii’ aspect  of Japanese popular culture, similar to China’s ‘Meng’ culture, it means cute.. The Hello Kitty trademark has spread globally; Sanrio earned over $1 billion in annual sales outside of Japan, as of 2003. Originally targeted towards pre-adolescent females, the market of Hello Kitty in China has broadened to include adult consumers. She can be found on a variety of products ranging from school supplies to fashion accessories and high-end consumer products.

However, Sanrio has not immune to the economy recession. In 2018, Sanrio’s total turnover reached 59.12 billion yen, which led to a 1.8% decrease. Its operating profit was 4.786 billion yen, a 16.5% reduction.

All the places you can find Hello Kitty in China

At a Hello Kitty themed restaurant in China

Hello Kitty restaurant in China

[Source: Sina Blog, ‘Hello Kitty themed restaurant in China’]

The darling icon based on the famous Japanese character finally found its way to Beijing, China, and more specifically, the western-style shopping complex of Sanlitun Village, where a fairy tale dining room known as the Hello Kitty Dreams restaurant opened to much fanfare in December 2011. The in-your-face kawaii Hello Kitty restaurant  opened on Christmas day of 2011. It is the first Hello Kitty themed restaurant in China and Asia. Today, the restaurant is so popular that diners have to call a hotline in order to try to ensure seating. Although the restaurant seats 70 people, it is often booked solid for a week in advance.

This Hello Kitty themed restaurant in China primarily targets female customers between the ages of 15-35 as it reminds them of their childhood. However, Couples also make up a large portion of their clientele. Many couples come to the restaurant for proposal, and the place creates golden memories for them. The restaurant is also very kid-friendly and appeals to many families as it sells toys along with the food and has an arts & crafts sections full of children.

The pink restaurant is attractive to families and Hello Kitty fans in China. The establishment is filled with images of Hello Kitty, pink cloths cover the tables and little cat prints. Even the staffs reflect the theme and color of the restaurant. Waitresses wear pink dresses, and waiters wear white shirts with a bow and blue rompers.

World’s first Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine in Hong Kong

Cartoon branded items in China

[Source: BuzzFeed, ‘At the Hong Kong Hello Kitty restaurant, the most popular dishes are dumplings‘]

The menu of Hello Kitty Dreams is an eclectic mixture of Asian and Western elements. However, the first pure Chinese Hello Kitty restaurant launched in Hong Kong in 2015.

The restaurant owner, Man Kwong, also has been running a health magazine, insisted on sticking to all-natural ingredients. Man Kwong experimented with hundreds of dim sum and each dish had to be approved by Sanrio executives.

Cartoon branded restaurant in China

[Source: Buzzfeed, ‘Apple Court VIP room of Hello Kitty restaurant’]

Consumers can reserve the private VIP room, ‘Apple Court’, for a minimum spend of 5000 HK dollars. The decorations on the walls of ‘Apple Court’ are paintings of Hello Kitty depicted as the ‘Four Great Beauties‘.

First Hello Kitty theme park in China

China also had a Hello Kitty maternity ward and officially opened a Hello Kitty theme park in 2015, in Anji County, Zhejiang Province, China. Before this park, Sanrio already operates two Hello Kitty theme parks in Japan, but this is the first of its kind in Japan and the first Hello Kitty theme park in China. The park was built to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Hello Kitty and cost £210 million. The park even has its own hotel attached.

cartoon theme park in China

[Source, dailymail, ‘Hello Kitty theme park in Anji‘]

Reviews show the Hello Kitty theme park in China is quite empty

However, as data and reviews provided by TripAdvisor, although there are many Hello Kitty fans in China and around the world, this Hello Kitty theme park in China is not adored by them.

Hello Kitty Theme park reviews in China

[Source, TripAdvisor, ‘traveler overview shows there is room to improve’]

Overall, it only had 23 reviews by February 2020. Reviewers described this Hello Kitty theme park in China as ‘the emptiest park I’ve ever been to’ and ‘a very quiet park’, which is an indication of little traffic. On the other hand, some people think it is a good place for families spend an entire day amusing themselves. On the positive side, people who prefer quiet would enjoy their time here as well.

Hello Kitty theme park reviews
Hello Kitty theme park in China

[Source, TripAdvisor, ‘reviews of the Hello Kitty theme park in China’]

Research on Hello Kitty’s brand image in China

In May 2014, a journalist, Li Yang, conducted a simple survey in Beijing and Langfang, on the attractiveness of the Hello Kitty cartoon image and related products in the Chinese market. A total of 400 copies were distributed in this survey, 200 in Beijing and 200 in Langfang, and of which the effective recovery of 368. There were 211 questionnaires for families with children and 157 for families without children.

The proportion of respondents who like cartoon and anime images was relatively high, between 69% and 77%; 21% of them do not like cartoons and anime at all. The level of purchasing or owning cartoon and animation related products has a positive relationship with the degree of likeness, ranging from 71% to 78%.

The most popular cartoon characters in China

Among the 23 cartoon characters listed in the questionnaire, Hello Kitty had a high level of brand awareness in the Chinese market and ranked second in popularity. Among the 257 people who like cartoons and anime, one-third of them like Hello Kitty, Doraemon, Huluwa(葫芦娃), Pleasant Goat(喜洋洋) and Grey Wolf (灰太狼), Chibi Maruko-chan, Crayon Shin-chan, Transformers, etc. as the same degree. Nearly half of the people have purchased Hello Kitty related products.

Copyright infringements are a challenge of China’s cartoon market

The purchase intention of respondents was very high, but only 1% of them who have visited the Hello Kitty stores. One of the reasons might be the distribution channels of Hello Kitty are narrow. Also, Hello Kitty consumers in China have not developed the habit of buying such products in specialty stores, and most of the purchased products are pirated products. The copyright issues are the most difficult challenges of Hello Kitty in China. Many people in China like Hello Kitty, but the proportion of purchasing is low. Also, many of the profits are draining out of Sanrio, who is taken advantage of piracy companies. Sanrio has not solved and improved these problems by the early year of 2020.

Let China Paradigm have a positive impact on your business!

Listen to China Paradigm on iTunes

China Paradigm is the #1 China business podcast