Mattel snagged the rights to Hello Kitty by flying a team to Tokyo and pitching the brand’s 91-year-old ‘patriarch’

Hello Kitty plush toys.

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Hello Kitty plush toys.
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Flickr/ArthurJohnPicton

  • Toy titan Mattel snagged the license to make Hello Kitty products by flying a team to Tokyo and pitching the 91-year-old boss of Sanrio, the brand’s parent company.
  • “Hello Kitty was not available, it was not being pitched or presented for people to bid on,” Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz said at a conference this week. “We went to Tokyo, multiple meetings with the patriarch owner of Sanrio,” he added, “pitched and won those rights.”
  • Mattel’s proactive approach also helped it win the rights to BTS, a South Korean boy band. “It’s not meant to be a toy, but we turned it into a toy line through creativity and innovation and going after it and winning it aggressively,” Kreiz said.
  • Watch Mattel and Sanrio trade live.

Toy titan Mattel snagged the license to make Hello Kitty products by flying a team to Tokyo and pitching Shintaro Tsuji, the 91-year-old founder and CEO of the brand’s parent company, Sanrio.

“Hello Kitty was not available, it was not being pitched or presented for people to bid on,” Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz said at a conference this week. “We went to Tokyo, multiple meetings with the patriarch owner of Sanrio,” he added, “pitched and won those rights.”

The maker of Barbie, Hot Wheels, and Fisher-Price struck a deal with Sanrio in June to develop toys, dolls, games, baby gear, and other products based on Hello Kitty and other cute characters such as Chococat and Tuxedosam. Tsuji founded Sanrio 60 years ago and debuted Hello Kitty – a white Japanese Bobtail wearing a big, red bow – 45 years ago.

Mattel has landed licenses for Minions, Toy Story 4, and other high-profile franchises in recent months. Securing the Hello Kitty license shows Mattel is “not necessarily following the beaten path of getting into a bidding cycle on known properties that come to the market, but rather innovating and going out and creating a new line out of something that was not necessarily available,” Kreiz said.

The group’s proactive approach helped it win the rights to BTS, the South Korean boy band that presented the 2019 Grammys, Kreiz said. “It’s not meant to be a toy, but we turned it into a toy line through creativity and innovation and going after it and winning it aggressively.”

Shares in Mattel surged about 12% on June 4, the day it announced the Hello Kitty deal. However, they plunged more than 10% on August 9 after the company received an “anonymous whistleblower letter” and scrapped a planned debt offering in order to investigate its claims. It hasn’t disclosed any further information about the letter.

Read more: Mattel rejected a merger with MGA Entertainment. Here’s why the toy giant is likely being trolled.