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Hello Kitty takes 'cute' to new heights

Kyodo / Reuters

An Eva Airways aircraft painted with Hello Kitty characters takes off at Narita International Airport in Narita, east of Tokyo.

Proving once again that there is no limit to the versatility of Hello Kitty, a Taiwan airline has launched new jets heavily laden with the multi-billion-dollar feline franchise.

The inscrutable cartoon cat with the red bow — notable for nothing except being cute — is an enduring brand in Asia. Since her creation by Japan’s Sanrio Co. in 1974, Hello Kitty has been licensed for products of nearly every imaginable kind. The toys, clothes, jewelry and accessories that populate Hello Kitty franchise stores worldwide are a mere glimpse of the possibilities.

Now, Sanrio has licensed EVA Air to decorate Airbus 330-300s with Hello Kitty's likeness.

In December, the third jet in EVA Air’s Hello Kitty fleet took its maiden flight, staffed by flight attendants in Hello Kitty-wear, who passed out airline meals crafted into Hello Kitty likenesses. After dabbing off the crumbs with Hello Kitty tissue and lathering up with Hello Kitty soap, passengers could nap on Hello Kitty pillows or browse limited-edition Hello Kitty duty-free products, according to a press release from EVA.

(For those who suffer cute overload, are there Hello Kitty barf bags? The release did not say.) 

The company clearly is trying to lure a particular demographic — and probably not the chain-smoking Asian business executives who used to dominate regional flights. Perhaps, suggests one brand expert, the airline is trying to sell itself as the one catering to children and families.

An airline is offering the ultimate Hello Kitty experience with service that includes cat-themed boarding passes, pink kiosks and other paraphernalia. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.

“The bottom line is … you absolutely have to do something to get noticed by your target customer,” says Derrick Daye, Los Angeles-based brand consultant and managing partner of The Blake Project. “The bull's-eye the airline is trying to hit overlaps somewhere with Hello Kitty.”

EVA Air first used the Hello Kitty campaign from 2005 to 2009 with two planes flying between Taipei and Japanese airports. EVA must have had some success because it has revived the campaign for its 20th anniversary with three jets serving regional flights.

“In Asia, Hello Kitty is a powerhouse brand. It’s an icon,” says brand expert Daye. “And it’s low-risk. Sure EVA has to pay Hello Kitty something for licensing … but as far as associating yourself with Hello Kitty, I think there is no risk.”

Or, as seen from another perspective — a blog called Hello Kitty Hell, dedicated to lambasting the ubiquitous cat — Hello Kitty is mysteriously unstoppable.

“As with all things Hello Kitty,” the blog once commented,  “no matter how bad you think they have become, somewhere out there the evil feline is ready to show that things can always get worse.”

EVA’s Hello Kitty jets fly daily from Taipei to Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul as well as Taipei to Fukuoka, Japan four days a week.

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