Hello Kitty is many things: a forever third-grader, a Scorpio, a suburbanite, an apple pie-lover, but she is most definitely not a cat. So her creator Sanrio has insisted for the past forty-odd years as the Japanese company turned the whiskered, mouthless character into a global icon plastered across 50,000 products worth $8 billion a year.
Kitty White is also a fan of Egyptology, judging by her most recent collaboration with the British Museum. She may hail from the outskirts of London, but the “Egyptian Adventure Pop-up Store” alongside England’s foremost museum of human history and culture is on a tour of East China. Currently installed at the Suzhou Centre Mall until June 30, the exhibition features a crossover between two intellectual properties (IPs) that hold vast consumer appeal in China — the country boasts Hello Kitty-themed restaurants, stores, and, as of 2015, a theme park.
Why it matters
When it comes to building a brand in China and harnessing the post-80s and post-90s demand for cultural IP products, the British Museum is unmatched among its European and North American peers. The pop-up follows a successful run in Chengdu’s Qiyi International Plaza, and a continuing collaboration with one of the most popular and recognizable entertainment IPs in China is a recognition of the museum’s reach and ambition.
Aided by its partnership with Chinese licensing experts Alfilo Brands, the museum has developed a strong social media presence on WeChat and Weibo, avails its gift shop goodies (Rosetta Stone everything) to Chinese consumers on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms Tmall and Taobao, and livestreams its ancient world wonders to audiences thousands of miles away, the most recent of which drew more than 300,000 viewers. The in-country pop-up store is the physical extension of this robust online strategy.
The immersive experience recreates an open-air Egyptian temple structure in the heart of Suzhou’s largest shopping mall (miniature pyramids top some of the structures for good measure). Visitors are invited to explore official replicas of the British Museum’s Egyptian collection, including the Gayer-Anderson cat, large-scale pharaoh sculptures, and, yes, the Rosetta Stone.
Integrated alongside these historically accurate reproductions are Hello Kitty IPs. The character appears on stele, “stone” tablets, and dons the regalia of Egyptian deities in brightly-colored statues — namely, Horus, Ra, Anubis, Baset, and Thoth — perfect for selfies.
Needless to say, fans in Shanghai are presented with a limited edition set of crossover collectibles to purchase including phone cases, mugs, and miniatures. Operations at the British Museum’s home base may still be plagued by the enduring disruptions of the past year, but in China, it’s certainly ca(t)italizing.