Characters Clean House

“Robot vacuums,” the small, self-propelled appliances of which the Roomba is the best-known example in the U.S., are popular in Japan, which is a leader in the manufacture and design of robots for industrial and consumer use and where small house sizes make the devices practical. And, as is the case with other small appliance categories in Japan, the vacuums have been regularly paired with licensed characters.

Many of the licensed vacuums respond to voice commands and can sing or utter a variety of phrases in the voice of the character. They can be promotional, limited-edition, or, in some cases, permanent fixtures in a company’s product line. Many utilize characters whose appearance is well suited to the often rounded shape of the appliance, although that is not always the case.

A few of the pairings that have popped up over the years include:

  • AiMY’s Hello Kitty and Cinnamoroll robot vacuums, introduced in partnership with Sanrio in 2022. (Hello Kitty has been a prolific partner of robot vacuums with a variety of marketers over the years.)
  • Sharp’s offerings under the Cocorobo brand, which have ranged from Gundam, the robot-centric manga/anime franchise, with machines featuring the character Haro, to, more recently, the protagonist Sebastian Michaelis from the manga series Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji). Cocorobo also introduced a “Little Sister” version sporting a proprietary manga-style character.
  • Roborock’s robot vacuum featuring Captain Levi from another manga series, Attack On Titan, which was programmed to utter more than 100 phrases.
  • Robot vacuums from CCP’s Mopet brand featuring characters including Hello Kitty and Gudetama, both from Sanrio. These are smaller than average and combine the functionality of a vacuum and a mop.
  • SHINE and GoodSmile Company’s Hatsune Miku desk model robot vacuum from several years ago. The design of this low-power device was meant to resemble a stage, in keeping with the character’s origins as an AI-powered voice synthesizer (Vocaloid) singer.

Other properties that have been featured on robot vacuums in Japan over time have included Pikachu, for a desk model; Rilakkuma; Funyassi, the mascot of the city of Funabashi, which has expanded into television and other media; and Hiyoko-chan, a chick character that is the mascot of Nissin Foods Chicken Ramen.

There have occasionally been collaborative robot vacuums in the U.S. as well. In 2018 Samsung offered a limited-edition Darth Vader POWERbot through retailers such as Best Buy, for example. While not a character, the band Weezer paired with iRobot’s Roomba in 2021 for five novelty “Wroombas” sent to fans in a giveaway. The design resembled a CD, with the name in the same font as used on the cover of the album the group was promoting at the time, Van Weezer.

More frequently, licensed vacuums in the U.S. tend to be part of brand-extension programs rather than character-identified. Last month, KCD Brands and DieHard Licensed Products granted rights to Equity Sales & Marketing (ESM) for a line of DieHard-branded wet/dry vacs, among several other categories.

Raugust Communications’ monthly e-newsletter comes out next Tuesday, April 18. The Licensing Topic of the Month will focus on learnings from retailers’ recent forays into the metaverse. And the Datapoint research spotlight will examine the importance of direct-to-consumer channels for sales of licensed products. If you are not yet a subscriber to this free publication, you can sign up here.

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