The Smiley Company

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Smiley Company
IndustryBrand licensing, Marketing
Founded1971; 50 years ago (1971) in France
Area served
Key people
Franklin Loufrani (Founder & President)
Nicolas Loufrani (CEO)
Revenue$ 538 million (2020)[1]
Number of employees
40 (2016)[2]

The Smiley Company is a brand licensing company, based in London, United Kingdom. It holds the rights to the smiley face in over 100 countries.[3][4][5] The company is considered to be one of the most influential licensing companies globally,[6][7] and creates products including textiles, puzzles, party goods, stationery, automobile accessories, and toys for licensed brand partners and retailers.[8][9]


As a journalist, Franklin Loufrani designed a smiley face for the newspaper France-Soir in 1971.[10][11][12] The image of the Smiley was accompanied with the slogan, "Take The Time To Smile."[13] It was created as a way to indicate to readers which stories held good news.[14] Before the campaign started, in October 1971, Loufrani registered his smiley face with the French trademark office.[15]

While other smiling faces were been used in marketing and advertising elsewhere globally,[16] many of them used terms such as "happy face" and "smiling face." Loufrani was the first documented person to use the term "smiley."[10] By the 1990s, Franklin and his son Nicolas Loufrani held trademarks for the symbol in around 70 countries and had licensed the smiley to brands including Levi Strauss & Co.[14] In 1996, the Loufranis founded the Smiley Company in London, England, built around the Smiley brand.[15] In 1997, Nicolas created hundreds of emoticons, including a 3D smiley logo.[17] Some sources incorrectly claim that Nicolas was the first to create portrait-orientation emoticons,[18][need quotation to verify] but various prior usage of portrait-format emoticons dates back to as early as 1972.[19][20][21][22] His images, registered with the United States Copyright Office in 1997, were first published as GIF files on the internet in 1998, making them the first graphical emoticons used in technology.[23][24] He launched the SmileyWorld brand shortly thereafter.[25][26] In the early 2000s, the company licensed the rights to their emoticons to telecom companies, including Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, amongst others.[27] Nicolas Loufrani compiled his graphical emoticons, along with other existing images used for communication, into an online dictionary[28] which was divided into categories,[29] and by 2002, the dictionary included over 3,000 images.[30]

In 1997, The Smiley Company filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In 2001, Walmart opposed the registration, citing potential confusion between their design and Loufrani's.[31] Nine years later, the USPTO initially sided with Walmart, before another federal court case was brought forward by Smiley in 2009.[32] In 2011, the companies settled out of court.[33]

In 2005, the company announced the creation of the Smiley World Association, later renamed Smiley Fund, as a charitable arm of the company, to which it donates 10 percent of its profits.[34][35] In 2017, the company was responsible for 210 million products, that were sold under partnership and licensing agreements.[36]

License Global magazine listed the company as one of the most influential brands of the 2010s in its December 2020 summary of the brands of the decade list.[1] In early 2021, it was announced that The Smiley Company had produced a short film about the history of the Smiley in the run-up to the 50th anniversary since it was created by Franklin Loufrani.[37]

Business model[edit]

The Smiley Company's business model was compared to Peter Drucker's theory that corporations could operate with a small team of senior management, with partnerships and outsourcing a major component when bringing products to market. In the book, The Michelangelo Project: Making It in the Digital Century Workforce, author Isabel Wu explained that The Smiley Company deployed a real-world example of Drucker's business theory. Its vast library of images, designs and concepts are then used by other companies to develop and manufacture products.[36]


  1. ^ a b "The Top Brands of the Decade". License magazine. December 2020.
  2. ^ Hervez, Marc (9 May 2016). "Qui a Inventé le Smiley? Son Histoire va Vous Surprendre". Le Parisien.
  3. ^ Loignon, Stéphane (3 August 2009). "Ses Petits Smiley Lui Rapportent de Plus en Plus Gros". Capital.
  4. ^ "Wal-Mart Seeks Smiley Face Rights". BBC News. 8 May 2006.
  5. ^ Owen, Jeremy (29 March 2016). "Profile: Smiley World". Transform Magazine.
  6. ^ "Smiley Named in Top 20 Most Influential Brands of the Decade". Smiley Company.
  7. ^ Stamp, Jimmy (13 March 2013). "Who Really Invented the Smiley Face?". Smithsonian.
  8. ^ Yvernault, Veronique (30 April 2014). "Smiley, Souriez, c'est Français!". LSA.
  9. ^ Pani, Priyanka (20 January 2014). "Smiley Bets Big on Merchandise Market". The Hindu BusinessLine.
  10. ^ a b Stamp, Jimmy (13 March 2013). Who really invented the Smiley face. Smithsonian. Washington DC. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  11. ^ Honan, William H. (14 April 2001). "H. R. Ball, 79, Ad Executive Credited With happy Face". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  12. ^ Adams, Cecil (23 April 1993). "Who invented the smiley face?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
  13. ^ "Behind the HYPE: The Surprising Beginnings of the Smiley Face Design". Hype Beast.
  14. ^ a b Collomp, Florentin (5 January 2010). "Smiley ou l'histoire d'une OPA sur un sourire". Le Figaro.
  15. ^ a b Crampton, Thomas (5 July 2006). "Smiley Face is Serious to Company". The New York Times.
  16. ^ "Focus on Deejay Scene". Billboard. 15 December 1962. p. 34.
  17. ^ "With the smiley, "we get to relax everybody"". Europe 1. 4 February 2016.
  18. ^ Marcel Danesi (17 November 2016). The Semiotics of Emoji: The Rise of Visual Language in the Age of the Internet. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  19. ^ Dear, Brian (19 September 2012). "PLATO Emoticons, revisited". Retrieved 2017-08-10.
  20. ^ "The History of Smiley Marks". Archived from the original on 3 December 2012. Retrieved 2013-03-14.
  21. ^ Yasumoto-Nicolson, Ken (2007-09-19). "The History of Smiley Marks (English)". Retrieved 2017-08-10.
  22. ^ "Jargon file, version 2.6.1, February 12, 1991". Retrieved 2013-03-14.
  23. ^ Rene Mahfood. "Emoji Users Are Shaping The Future Of Messaging". The Light Magazine.
  24. ^ "Niclas Loufrani in the Interview: "My father has invented the smiley face."". inter/VIEW. 23 June 2014.
  25. ^ Symbols: A Universal Language. Michael O'Mara Books. 25 October 2013. ISBN 1782430733.
  26. ^ Loveday, Samantha (22 May 2015). "The Big Interview: Nicolas Loufrani, CEO, Smiley".
  27. ^ Burke, Jade (7 March 2016). "SmileyWorld's CEO Nicolas Loufrani on Plagiarism, the School Market and a Push for More Toys".
  28. ^ Das, Souvik (4 August 2016). "Emoting Out Loud: The Origin of Emojis". di9it.
  29. ^ Jack Quann (17 July 2015). "A picture paints a thousand words: Today is World Emoji Day". News Talk.
  30. ^ Marc Hervez (9 May 2016). "Who invented the Smiley? Its history will surprise you…". Le Parisien.
  31. ^ Olson, Parmy (8 May 2006). "Scott's Wal-Mart in Trademark Clash Over Smiley Face". Forbes.
  32. ^ Smith, Aaron (3 June 2016). "Walmart's Smiley is back after 10 years and a lawsuit". CNNMoney. Retrieved 2017-07-16.
  33. ^ Law, Natasha. "From Nirvana and Marc Jacobs to the Smiley Co. and Walmart, the Enduring Fight for the Smiley Face". TheFashionLaw.
  34. ^ "Van Es Shows Off Home Textile Range for Smiley". License Global. 11 January 2010.
  35. ^ Wiseman, Eva (2 July 2006). "A Smiley Face Goes a Long Way". The Guardian.
  36. ^ a b Wu, Isabel. The Michelangelo Project: Making It in the Digital Century Workforce. p. 120.
  37. ^ "Tracing 50 years of the iconic Smiley, a symbol of defiant optimism". Dazed. January 6, 2021.

External links[edit]