Franklin and Nicolas Loufrani: 50 Years of the Smiley

50 Years of the Smiley

In 1972, Franklin Loufrani, a French journalist working with the France Soir newspaper, created the logo that is today recognised all over the world as ‘Smiley’. Tasked with launching a ‘feel-good’ campaign to counter negative headlines reporting civil and political unrest across France, the smiley face creator and owner developed the logo as a symbol of optimism and positivity.

Over the next five decades, the simple Smiley logo retained relevancy, having been adopted by several cultural movements, from free love to the digital revolution. Recognising the logo’s significant commercial potential, he was quick to register the Smiley trademark in France and several other European countries – and it is now registered in over 100 countries.

Franklin Loufrani created a beacon of promise and possibility during an era of political turmoil in France, which rapidly spread across the wider world. In the 1970s, towards the end of the Vietnam war, the mood was bleak and sombre, not just in France but also in many Western nations. To counter gloomy visions of a dystopian future, the world was in dire need of an injection of optimism and positivity.

When France Soir launched Franklin Loufrani’s ‘Take the Time to Smile’ campaign it quickly gained traction, fulfilling an unmet need for more positivity among readers. The campaign spread across Europe via Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, bringing positive vibes to the pages of La Vanguardia, Blick and De Telegraph respectively.

Franklin Loufrani did not yet use the brand name ‘Smiley’ when he trademarked his iconic smiling face logo in 1971. Over the years, the Smiley Company has established itself as a leading global licensing and lifestyle brand with a defiantly optimistic outlook.

Launched with the mantra ‘Take the Time to Smile’, the Smiley trademark was all about entertaining people with light-hearted, fun stories. With the internet overflowing with all kinds of similar graphics today, Smiley has evolved to find a deeper purpose beyond its longstanding association with sharing good news.

In 1989, Franklin Loufrani launched the world’s first Smiley plush toy. Since he started registering this name as the company’s trademark, Loufrani had the foresight to buy back numerous other trademarks registered by third parties who used the Smiley name in totally different contexts.

Over the years, Smiley has grown to become a global marketing and brand phenomenon, collaborating with numerous fashion and lifestyle brands, including Karl Lagerfeld, Richard Mille, Tommy Hilfiger and Armani. Smiley was also used by major global brands like Samsung and Mondelez, and printed on Franco Moschino’s famous 1994 T-shirt, accompanied by the tagline ‘No to racism!’ In 2000, at the turn of the millennium, the Smiley Company launched a campaign to counter fears regarding Y2K and global fears regarding a potential IT and social breakdown.

Now registered worldwide for various product classes, the Smiley logo and name is considered one of the most influential and ubiquitous brands on the planet.

Harvey Ball, an American graphic artist, was commissioned to design a badge for a client called State Mutual Life Assurance Company of America (now called Worcester Insurance Company). At the time, neither the company nor Ball applied for a trademark, model or copyright of the smile badge. In 1971, Franklin Loufrani designed his Smiley and trademarked it the following year. This followed a global expansion over two generations, which saw his Smiley become a household brand in product industries like fashion, food and toys.

Joining his father’s company as CEO, the godfather of emojis Nicolas Loufrani created hundreds of emoticons in 1997, based on a new 3D version of Smiley. He established the world’s first graphical emoticons when he published them on the internet, after first registering his images with the United States Copyright Office.

Reflecting on the launch of the emboldened yellow Smiley by his father in France Soir, Nicolas Loufrani points out that everyone wore three-piece suits and ties at the time, and newspapers were ‘pretty serious’. Indeed, the yellow smiling face was the first splash of colour ever seen on the front page of France Soir, with everything else in black and white.

From the rave scene of the early 1980s to the digital revolution of the 2000s, Smiley fashion and accessories have often been worn by counter-culture artists and trendsetters and associated with various cultural movements. In instant messaging today, emojis inspired by Nicolas Loufrani’s Smileys are a mainstay, providing a universal language for people all over the world to connect with each other and express themselves instantly.