The happy smiley’s juicy business

The Smiley Company has been around for half a century and its success has never wavered. The Guardian dedicates a long article to this particularly lucrative company and first makes the numbers speak: in 2021 alone, it still sold products worth 486 million dollars, or half a billion euros. It must be said that it has the rights to the famous happy smiley in more than half of the countries of the globe, which makes it one of the 100 most successful companies in the category of commercial licenses.

The Frenchman Nicolas Loufrani, born in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1971, heads this business, which offers thousands of products in fourteen categories, from beauty to decoration. He is naturally happy with the constantly renewed performance of the license he holds. No fewer than sixty-five new partnerships and collaborations are currently underway, including with such prestigious brands as Reebok and Karl Lagerfeld.

The two main axes of The Smiley Company’s success are creativity and brand protection, summarizes Loufrani, who also explains that the important thing is to continue to go beyond the dimension of the simple logo, so that the smiley is considered more as the emblem of a “movement”one “unfailing optimism, positive thinking, empathy and benevolence”.

The smiley’s first foray into pop culture was in the 1950s, and it’s in no way related Forrest Gump.

In 1961, he was seen appearing on a promotional sweatshirt produced by radio station WMCA to present a new talk show called ‘Good Guys’. But it was in 1963 that the design that would really help launch its legend was born under the impetus of Harvey Ball, an advertising executive in Massachusetts.

Ball was hired by an insurance company to design a smiling smiley logo to boost the morale of its employees, and in about ten minutes he wrote the beaming face with the slightly crooked smile that we know today. The mission, quickly dispatched, brings him $45.

The company begins to produce smiley pins, which are then sold in the millions. The design was not registered anywhere at the time, benefiting the brothers Bernard and Murray Spain in 1971. These owners of several Hallmark stationery stores based in Philadelphia added the phrase “Have a Happy Day” below the logo and a copyright in full. In a single year they will sell over 50 million badges.

The Loufrani system

In 1972, Franklin Loufrani, a journalist and commercial licensing expert, became the first person to register the smiley as a trademark, making him the legal owner of the logo. From Batman to Babar, Loufrani had already done well several times in the French market. The concept of licensing was unknown at the time and he was able to make the most of his pioneering status.

We then continued to see smileys everywhere, including in France, where Franklin Loufrani had managed to persuade the daily newspaper France-Soir to create a column entitled “Take the time to smile”, emblazoned with the famous logo. Partnerships with Levi’s, Mars and many other brands were also launched without delay. Nicolas Loufrani, son of Franklin, ended up succeeding his father. And he visibly manages to keep the franchise from running out of steam, fifty years after its creation.

Among the criticisms of the Loufrani clan, there is the fact of leaving Harvey Ball aside until his death in 2001. The designer of the logo never benefited from his hallucinatory success; but he wasn’t “a man ruled by money”says Charles Ball, his son, who quotes a phrase often uttered by his father: “I can only eat one steak at a time and drive one car at a time.” Sacred philosophy.

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