Hello Kitty, affectionately known in Japan as "Kitty-chan", first appeared on a coin purse in the mid-1970s. From these humble beginnings, that cat created an empire of cute. But how?
Before the Hello Kitty purse went on sale, Sanrio, originally a silk company, was looking to create characters to appear on "gifts". Whether it be souvenirs or visiting friends, gift giving is an important part of Japanese culture. By creating its own character, Sanrio would not have to rely on popular licensed characters like, say, Mickey Mouse.
Sanrio took a page out of the Disney handbook, but did Walt and co. one better. Sanrio created Hello Kitty pencils, pencil cases and stationary. Unlike Mickey Mouse, the character existed largely out of a comic strip and animation context. Hello Kitty might be a character, but it's a character brand.
By 1977, Kitty-chan did get her own anime and later her own video games. Disney has not hesitated to put its characters on products. Sanrio, however, has been incredibly aggressive - bold, even. Branding is how Kitty-chan's popularity spread. Sanrio licensed the character out for everything from washing machines to wine, from panty liners to "massage wands" and from toasters to Hello-Kitty branded aeroplanes. The company has taken a very progressive look at products. Disney has been far more reserved about more mature products.
Hello Kitty has not stopped at products, but has expanded on to high fashion.
The plethora of licensed products act as commercials for Hello Kitty. And while Sanrio does not usually run television commercials itself, the company is more than happy to have its characters act as corporate pitchmen. Hence, Hello Kitty's latest collaboration: Monster Hunter.
Hello Kitty items will appear inside Capcom's upcoming Monster Hunter Portable 3rd. The game gets Hello Kitty, an iconic Japanese character, and Sanrio gets more free advertising for its character. It's the same reason why Hello Kitty was licensed for Universal Studios Japan. Hello Kitty isn't a Universal Studios character per se (she already has her own theme parks), but Japanese people like Hello Kitty. And Sanrio likes the publicity. And the next tie-up will do the same for Hello Kitty, and the next and the next and the next...