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Hello Kitty is not a cat - interview with reporter who started worldwide debate

Hello Kitty is NOT a cat? Really?! In recent days, people from around the world have expressed shock as they found out Hello Kitty is not a cat from articles or TV news reports quoting "Hello Kitty is not a cat, plus more reveals before her L.A. tour" by Los Angeles Times reporter Carolina A. Miranda. My in-depth and exclusive Skype video interview with Miranda talks about what lead her to write the article and different aspects of the Hello Kitty brand. Have a watch of the interview as it was a ton of fun to conduct and should be a lot of fun to watch.

Hello Kitty is not a cat - Screen captures and pictures used for illustrative purpose in interview video with Los Angeles reporter Carolina Miranda.
Hello Kitty is not a cat - Screen captures and pictures used for illustrative purpose in interview video with Los Angeles reporter Carolina Miranda.Screen capture by Kempton Lam

To be honest, this reporter is one of the people who was shocked to find out Hello Kitty is not a cat from reading Miranda's article. And then changed my mind again after reading "Don't Be Silly, Hello Kitty Is a Cat" by Brian Ashcraft, who did a phone interview with representative from Sanrio, the Japanese company that owns the Hello Kitty character. Here is what Ashcraft wrote,

"When Kotaku called Sanrio's Tokyo headquarters today and asked whether or not Hello Kitty was indeed a cat, a spokesperson explained, "Hello Kitty was done in the motif of a cat. It's going too far to say that Hello Kitty is not a cat. Hello Kitty is a personification of a cat.""

OK, Hello Kitty is a "personification of a cat" seems a lot more sensible than "Hello Kitty is not a cat, she is a girl"! Unfortunately, this reporter's mind was forced to change once more after reading Miranda's update "What happens when you say Hello Kitty is not a cat? Kitty chaos". In particular, this line made the final change [emphasis added in bold],

"Before my story, anyone who had done some careful Googling could have turned up the fact that Kitty was not a cat, as a PDF document of Sanrio's art usage guidelines will tell you. As it states: "Hello Kitty is not a cat, she is a girl. Please do not make/use animal references.""

Miranda said when she Googled "Hello Kitty not a cat" to fact check, the PDF document [see link below] was the first result returned by Google. But if you try to access the PDF link, "http://www.sanriodiva.com/data/sites/5/guidedocument/approvalguideline.pdf", you will get a "404 - File or directory not found." I will leave it to the readers to decide if higher powers at Sanrio decided the document should be removed from its Online Approval System. Anyway, thanks to Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, you can download the 2013 archived PDF document "Hello Kitty - Brand Image & Approval Guideline (Europe)" and read page 2, in black and white, that Sanrio's #1 Basic Rule for Hello Kitty logo & pose is:

"1. Hello Kitty is not a cat, she is a girl. Please do not make/use animal references."

OK, a Brand Image & Approval Guideline is as close to a legal document as one can get in how a company want you to uses it brand and character. Case closed.

As Miranda mentioned in the video interview and you can verify in Sanrio Hello Kitty's official fans site, Hello Kitty is British and she has a twin sister call Mimmy White, and even a pet cat call Charmmy Kitty. And the often wondered and sometimes asked question "Why doesn't Hello Kitty have a mouth?" has this official fans site answer,

"Though Sanrio still hasn't made an official announcement about it, Yuko Yamaguchi, the current official designer of Hello Kitty entertained this question when Time Magazine interviewed her:

"It's so that people who look at her can project their own feelings onto her face, because she has an expressionless face. Kitty looks happy when people are happy. She looks sad when they are sad. For this psychological reason, we thought she shouldn't be tied to any emotion - and that's why she doesn't have a mouth."

Click here to read the full interview with Yuko Yamaguchi, the current official designer of Hello Kitty entertained this question when Time Magazine interviewed her."

The Business of Hello Kitty

All the worldwide buzz and discussions have to be good for the 40 years old Hello Kitty brand which has reportedly earned its maker Sanrio more than "$7 billion a year, an absurd number that seems all the more absurd when considering Sanrio does very little advertising"! As this reporter has written many times, the best advertising cannot be bought because they are reported as news or editorials, just like Hello Kitty has been appearing in "not a cat" news in the last few days.

KISS frontman Gene Simmons once told this reporter in a Fox LA Google+ video Hangout that there are KISS branded Hello Kitty merchandises! And in doing research for this article, this reporter had spent hours last night (willingly as it was FUN) looking at Taiwan airline Eva Air's Hello Kitty theme travel offerings. Amongst the many Eva Air Hello Kitty photos shared on Flickr, these are especially lovely: check in area, many different planes, Kitty themed meals, bus, and even toiletries!

In an insightful interview (part 1 and part 2) with the third (and current) Hello Kitty character designer Yuko Yamaguchi, she was asked to give some background up until she became Hello Kitty's designer. Here is her answer [with emphasis added in bold],

"Certainly. At the end of the ‘70s, Hello Kitty wasn’t selling much, and Sanrio’s biggest sellers were the Little Twin Stars (Kiki and Lala). I was actually a fan of Kiki and Lala. At the time, I had just joined Sanrio and I belonged to a group that developed so-called “non-character” designs such as logos and heart patterns that were aimed more at adults. I was not engaged in character design.

It was then that the second Hello Kitty designer quit, and it seemed as though Hello Kitty might also go. A lot of Hello Kitty products were being discontinued then, and the company president Tsuji was apparently concerned, saying, “If we leave her like this, Hello Kitty will be lost.” Part of that is because the concept behind Hello Kitty was that she was the “symbol of friendship.”

It was a time when the characters who debuted in the mid-’70s stopped selling and kept getting discontinued. Even before I entered the company, merchandise for characters that had been selling well like Bunny & Matty, Patty & Jimmy and Tiny Poem stopped selling. It’s true that I thought that it was finally Hello Kitty’s time as well. With that situation and with a lot of people in the company saying, “But she’s the symbol of friendship,” and “We can’t just let this go,” we ended up holding an election for the third Hello Kitty designer."

Not bad for a character that wasn't selling much at the end of 70s to now making $7 billion a year. Despite all the heated discussions/outrage and the latest "news" of "Young girl refuses to accept Hello Kitty is not a cat – and she’s got a point" where the attached 17,000+ views YouTube video, Sanrio can celebrate Hello Kitty's 40th Anniversary by secretly/openly laughing all the way to the bank!