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Way More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Hello Kitty

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You know her name. You've seen her signature red ribbon. And even though you're curious, you've never had the courage to learn more because you're not a seven-year old girl. Don't worry; your secret is safe with us. To help you out, we've come up with a list of everything you've ever wanted to know about Hello Kitty, but were too embarrassed to ask.

1. The iconic white cat is the primary spokesanimal for Sanrio, a Japanese company started in the 1950s to sell silk and produce.

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In the 1960s, they expanded their product line to include items that catered to the gift-giving tradition in Japan – usually small, simple objects that can be given to a friend for special occasions, holidays, or even everyday things like visiting their house. Most of Sanrio’s items at the time, like pencil cases and stickers, were geared towards elementary school kids and, almost by accident, they discovered that adding cute little designs and characters helped sales. When one of the in-house designers came up with Hello Kitty, the best thing company founder Shintaro Tsuji could say was that he liked it well enough.

2. Despite everyone calling her Hello Kitty, her name is actually Kitty White.

There is some debate as to how she got her nickname, though one theory points to her 1974 debut on a clear coin purse with her picture under the word “Hello.” Teenage girls were immediately drawn to “the Hello Kitty,” and the purse became a best-seller.

3. In Taiwan, there's a Hello Kitty Hospital!

© Christine Lu/Reuters/Corbis

Each bed sheet is branded with Hello Kitty, as are the nurses' uniforms. A giant Kitty statue greet guests in the lobby. According to a 2008 Reuters report, twice a year, people in character costumes come around and entertain patients.

4. Today, there are around 50 Sanrio characters gracing over 22,000 officially-license products.

On average, the company introduces three new characters every year, while at the same time taking a handful out of circulation for a little while so they don’t oversaturate the market. All told, Sanrio's annual sales hover around $5 billion dollars.

5. Hello Kitty and her pals are part of the kawaii (“cute”) subculture of Japan.

“Kawaisa” (“cuteness”) appeared on the cultural landscape in the 1970s, when teenage girls began adding hearts, rainbows, and smiley faces to their writing, and even spoke in a sort of baby talk manner. This fad caused quite a bit of controversy among adults, but was adopted by companies so they could connect with young people just as they were becoming a force in the consumer market. As people realized kawaisa wasn't going to bring the downfall of society, it became accepted and is now integral to Japanese culture.

6. There are a couple of urban legends about her origins that add a sinister connotation to Hello Kitty.

One story says that a controversial nuclear power plant hired Sanrio to create a cute corporate mascot that would help soften their image. Another legend tells of a married couple whose only daughter was sick with cancer. In exchange for her recovery, the parents made a pact with the Devil that they would create a character in Satan’s honor that would be adored worldwide. As you might have guessed, neither of these is true.

7. In 2007, it was announced that police in Bangkok would be forced to wear bright pink Hello Kitty armbands as punishment for minor infractions.

© Rungroj Yongrit/epa/Corbis

The plan was soon abandoned—according to NBC News, "There was a rebellion in the macho ranks, as well as outrage on Hello Kitty websites."

8. She's a clean slate!

Hello Kitty and many other Sanrio characters were designed without a mouth so that the character could take on whatever emotions the viewer needs them to have at the time. Some believe this is part of the reason they’re so popular across generations and cultures - anyone can relate to them. (It’s also one of the things that Kitty haters say creeps them out the most.)

9. She looks suspiciously similar to a certain white rabbit.

Image courtesy of JapanProbe.com

Almost since her introduction, children's author and illustrator Dick Bruna has insisted that Hello Kitty and her pals resembled the design of his own cute creation, Miffy. First published in 1955 — nearly 20 years before Hello Kitty’s debut — Miffy is a white rabbit with an oval head, small, black eyes and a tiny “X” for a mouth. Still, Bruna never officially challenged the designs until 2010, when he sued Sanrio for its character, Cathy, a white rabbit that is Hello Kitty's best friend. The timing was a bit strange, considering Cathy was introduced in 1976 and has been featured on thousands of products over the last 35 years, but the courts still ruled in Bruna's favor. Sanrio is appealing the decision, but for the time being, they're banned from selling Cathy merchandise in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

10. Hello Kitty has been featured in over a dozen video games, including her latest, Hello Kitty Online

Hello Kitty Online is a free massively multiplayer role playing game in the same vein as World of Warcraft. Players can adventure alone or join guilds to complete quests like finding all the ingredients for a special soup, delivering a pizza before it gets cold, or collecting wands that can be used to defeat monsters that guard treasure. There’s also the opportunity to build your own house, raise crops, adopt a pet, and customize your character’s wardrobe. For some of these perks, you’ll need to earn Sanrio Loyalty Points by posting videos, writing blog posts, and completing quizzes on Sanriotown.com. Or you can spend real money to buy Loyalty Points at an exchange rate of 80 points for a $1. To give you some idea of the price, a typical in-game house costs about $5, not including furniture, which is, of course, sold separately.

11. She's not just for kids.

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While most Hello Kitty products are made for children, as the brand’s customers have gotten older, Sanrio has catered to them with more adult-oriented products. For example, Fender guitars has featured a Hello Kitty Stratocaster, Neiman Marcus recently carried a collection of Hello Kitty jewelry with a top price of $5,000, Dr. Marten boots is currently selling a line of Sanrio shoes, and there are even Airbus airplanes with her image plastered on the side. There are also two high-end boutiques called Sanrio Luxe in New York's Times Square and in Manila, Philippines, which feature exclusive, expensive, rhinestoned-out products.

This shift to more adult products has been a bit controversial, though. Hello Kitty thongs, Hello Kitty Wine, and a “Hello Kitty Massage Wand” (AKA The Hello Kitty Vibrator), have been popular with adult female fans, but have been frowned upon by those who feel the brand should remain focused on its youngest followers instead.

12. Then there are the unofficial products.

Of course you can't be this popular without a few people jumping on the bandwagon. There are thousands of unofficial Hello Kitty products, like Hello Kitty bongs, Hello Kitty gas masks, and Hello Kitty handguns and assault rifles. There's even a Hello Kitty-themed S&M room at one of Japan's “love hotels,” where Japanese couples can rent a room by the hour for private encounters. Sanrio has tried to stop some of these copyright infringements, but there are so many that it's virtually impossible to keep up.

Meet the Cast

This epic world of cute fuzzy icons includes:

• Hello Kitty: Kitty White is officially 5 apples high, weighs 3 apples, lives near London, her birthday is November 1, and her blood type is A. (Blood type is apparently important in the Sanrio canon; you have to enter a blood type when creating your character on the Hello Kitty Online game.)

• Dear Daniel: Hello Kitty's unofficial boyfriend. His father is a famous photographer, which means the family has lived all over the world in places like Africa, New York City, and is now back in London. He’s an excellent dancer in styles ranging from ballet to hip-hop.

• Badtz-Maru: One of the few Sanrio characters marketed to boys, he's a spiky-haired, rebellious penguin born on April 1. He has a “watchdog” that is actually an alligator named Pochi. He was honored as the official mascot for the 2006 FIBA World Championship Basketball Tournament held in Japan.

• My Melody: A rabbit wearing a red hood, second in popularity only to Hello Kitty, she even has her own line of products not sold under the Hello Kitty banner. She loves baking cookies with her mother, eating almond pound cake, and her best friend is a mouse named Flat.

• Kuromi: My Melody's friendly rival, this white rabbit wears a black hood with a pink skull. She loves reading romance novels, writing in her diary, and eating shallots.

(And many more.)

13. Hello Kitty has quite a political career.

She has been a UNICEF ambassador to the United States since 1983 and to Japan since 1994. Then, in 2008, she was appointed as the official Japanese ambassador of tourism to both Hong Kong and China, the first fictional character to hold this title.

14. If you're a Scottish Sanrio fan, you can get a kilt made using the Hello Kitty tartan.

The pink plaid pattern was designed by Lochcarron of Scotland, the world's leading manufacturer of tartans, and was officially recognized by the the Scottish Register of Tartans in 2004.

15. Sadly, not all associations with Hello Kitty are sunshine and rainbows, especially 1999’s “The Hello Kitty Murder.”

The details are gruesome. You can read about it here.

Know any other Hello Kitty facts we missed? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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