Post by Steven Dale
Hello Kitty, now featured on Taipei’s MRT Easycard.
We’ve had a lego cable car.
Then we had an Angry Birds themed cable car.
We’ve even had a sauna gondola.
But this is unique.
Last week the Taipei Rapid Transit Corp. (TRTC) relaunched the under-performing Maokong Gondola under a year-long promotion called “The Year of Hello Kitty.”
The themed attraction is (natch) a Hello Kitty themed environment designed as a means to increase ridership on the money losing system. Whether or not that strategy is successful in the long-term is anybody’s guess, but if the relaunch’s first day of operations are any indication, TRTC may have landed on something.
On it’s first day of operations the Hello Kitty gondola system transported almost 12,000 riders — a fivefold increase week-over-week with people having to purchase tickets up to 30 days in advance of visiting the system.
Now sure, some of those 12,000 people were no doubt a part of a complex marketing strategy to gain attention and awareness — but all of them? Unlikely.
I’ll admit it — I don’t really understand why emblazoning a cable car system with a feline Japanese cartoon character would convert into actual ridership, but then again I don’t understand Hello Kitty.
Actually, let me rephrase that: I don’t understand the fascination with Hello Kitty specifically.
I do, however, understand fandom and the associated culture that comes along with it. Like any piece of cult geekery, the thing about Hello Kitty is that it has a built-in fandom that is beyond compare. Fans like these will consume almost anything that’s within the Hello Kitty empire (including, apparently, knock-off Hello Kitty themed condoms, chainsaws and tooth crowns.
I may not care one iota about Hello Kitt, but give me a Transformers-themed cable car ride and I’ll give you all the money just to ride it once. So believe me: I get it.
Not content to let all that sweet Hello Kitty merchandising money slip through their hands, TRTC has wisely outfitted each of the cable car stations with plenty of unique Hello Kitty gondola merchandise for people to add to their collections.
What’s interesting here has less to do with Hello Kitty and more to do with a public transit agency intentionally going out of their way to make a part of their transit system that is currently unprofitable, profitable. And they’re doing it in a most-unusual (for a transit agency) manner — they’re being fun.
We’ve talked about fun in the past (here, here and here, for example) and I think the point is this: Hello Kitty is not the answer to a transit agency’s woes. But if injecting a little bit of fun into the equation increases ridership, revenue and smiles; then shouldn’t every transit agency look to do something similar?
PS — For any other transit agencies looking to get in on that Hello Kitty transit goldmine, you can already find your favourite Asian cartoon cat on streetcars, LRTs and planes. Get yours today.
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