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The Hello Kitty phone is coming . . . your daughter will want one


Lilly Peel

The Times (UK)

May 20, 2008

Mobile phones branded with the popular children’s character Hello Kitty are due to hit the high street in July, prompting parental fears over the marketing of phones at the youngest in society.

Health fears persist about mobile phone use by children, with an authoritative report in 2005 concluding that 9 to 14-year-olds should make only short, essential calls. The report by Sir William Stewart said that children under 8 should not use mobile phones at all.

Products with Hello Kitty cartoon cat images are aimed at children as young as five. Parenting experts said last night that children would pressurise adults to buy the phone, which can be bought online for $599 (£310), as a fashion accessory.

Sue Palmer, author of Detoxing Childhood, which gives advice to parents on how to steer children through the problems of growing up, said that bringing a Hello Kitty phone on to the market was “very irresponsible”. She said: “A Hello Kitty phone would concern me considerably. The Hello Kitty website is aimed at 6 to 7-year-olds. The products are very pink and very attractive to young girls. What they are doing is looking for a new market and this is the thing I find so offensive. They need a new market and they are exploiting children.”

Two years ago Disney announced plans for a Mickey Mouse mobile phone service aimed at 8 to 14-year-olds, only to scrap the idea, citing an “adverse retail environment”.

The so-called Teddyphone, a phone in the shape of a teddy aimed at 4-year-olds and programmed to only call four numbers, also flopped.

In 2005 Sir William Stewart, then chairman of the Health Protection Agency and the National Radiological Protection Board, recommended that 9 to 14-year-olds should make only short, essential calls, use text messaging as far as possible and should have low-emission models. He said that those who were younger should never use them.

The British company Comment Retail Service, which has struck a deal with Sanrio to become the exclusive licence holder in Britain and Ireland for Hello Kitty phones, said that the phones were not going to be marketed at young children. Caroline Preston, sales director, said: “There’s definitely a fan base that you associate with youngsters and young teenagers.” She said that the phones were not targeted at children and would appeal to women in their twenties and thirties.

“Sanrio has been attempting to broaden their appeal out of the 10 to 12-year-old sector. She [Hello Kitty] has grown up and become more urban. If the market was for 5 to 15-year-olds we wouldn’t have become involved. Hello Kitty has mass market appeal. The price point and functional-ity is aimed at adults.”

The cat already features on clothes in Top Shop and H&M and adorns an estimated 22,000 products globally.

Taiwan’s second-largest airline, Eva Air, has a Hello Kitty branded aircraft, with the exterior decked with the Hello Kitty theme.

Cash in the Kitty

— Hello Kitty is the most successful of several characters produced by Sanrio and decorates stationery, school supplies and gifts. Other characters include Pochacco, the athletic puppy, and Charmmy Kitty, another cat

— The company was founded in 1960 and first began selling products in the West in 1976 Sanrio currently produces more than 2,500 Hello Kitty-branded objects. There are 4,000 Hello Kitty outlets in the US alone selling everything from Hello Kitty fire extinguishers to toasters

— One of the most expensive products is a laptop computer costing just over £1,000

— According to her biography Hello Kitty was born on on November 1, 1974, and lives with her parents and her twin sister Mimmy. She weighs “the same as three apples” and is the height of five. Her interests include “baking yummy cookies” and “making lots of friends”

— Sanrio Puroland theme park in Tokyo is dedicated to Hello Kitty and her fellow toys


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