Thursday, 28 March 2013

Hello Kitty ! How to grow brand characters with human characteristics



Ever since my French exchange partner (Jean-Francois) managed to pull a garden rotivator up his leg on day two of my Easter ski trip I have been a bit of an Asterix fiend.  To this day I am pretty good at reading French, even if my accent is 'un petit peu franglais', because this accident meant I got to read three or four Asterix Bande Dessinee each day for the remainder of my stay.  BD, to those in the know, cartoon books if you were still wondering, are very popular even amongst adults in France, many homes will have a collection of these. Oddly, Tin Tin (who is Belgium and a good answer to the 'name three famous Belgians' question) never quite did it for me.  I have collected Asterix stuff over the years, and even visited Parc Asterix, near Paris, as a grown up to taste the theme park branded experience.

The Japanese Manga craze came to late for me, even though my boys are Pokemon mad. I was therefore intrigued when my marketing colleague Sameer mentioned he had just been published a peer reviewed journal paper about Hello Kitty, the cat like character that is a global marketing phenomenon.  A cooler, younger, Asian cartoon character that, without much of a back story seems to have grown to become a global player.  Extremely feminine, cutesy, pink, fluffy and kitch, my oldest son begged me not to buy Hello Kitty branded (and scent impregnated) tissues.  I care not what I wipe my nose with and given that both my sons were encouraged to hang out with girls at dance classes in their early years, I really didn't see pink tissues as an issue.  Joel, however, was insistent.  "They are for girls ! If you get those I won't use them."  They were £1/box on special offer, cheaper than the alternatives.  Decision made.

Must buy Hello Kitty Pomegranate Branded Iced Tea

Hosany et al, (2013) in the Journal of Marketing looked at the theory and strategies of anthropomorphic brand characters from Peter Rabbit, Mickey Mouse, and Ronald McDonald, to Hello Kitty, a topic the marketing literature has not yet considered much.  It draws on Aaker theory, that is close to my heart, on brand extensions and line extensions and seeks to explain how Hello Kitty has achieved the venerable status of being the third most counterfeited global brand.  It considers the use of nostalgia and contemporary resonance to ensure that Kitty fans continue to find the brand proposition relevant even in adulthood.  A good thing ?   With its diamante sparkle and fluffiness I am surprised the anti-everything gang hasn't dubbed the brand "Hello Kitchy". 

VW lashes:  Are you making eyes at me ?
Not everyone is into the cutsie humanisation concept, of course.  VW camper van and Beetle owners are renowned for naming their vehicles and treating them as though they were part of the family.  One of my metrosexual dad chums refused to put eye lashes made from windscreen wiper rubber on his middle aged crisis sports car.  Not even for a day !  I taunted him over email with this picture (left).  He stood firm.

I know it might not be perceived as cool by others, (I transcend notions of coolness) but take this recent example of personalisation that I captured on the side of what otherwise would be seen as yet another dull, functional, delivery vehicle.  White van man was a bit of a negative cultural stereotype in the UK for a while, synonymous for a type of bad mannered driver who lacked common courtesy, but didnt' care. 

Surf chic on this White VW van ?
I love the sense of fun, the celebration of an iconic brand in a spray of blue hibiscus flowers.  The owners sense of fun, pride in his alloy wheeled van, that includes the tropical flower silhouette, so evocative of the beach surf scene.

It's almost as though you would expect to see a couple of surf boards nestling in the back of the van with a sand encrusted wet suit.

I haven't tried this before, but why not share below your own stories for cartoon characters ? What name would you give this white van ?