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The Smiley Company: How a happiness campaign turned into a US $268 million per year business

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On Saturday, January 01, 1972, journalist Franklin Loufrani wanted to spread a little happiness in a time when bad news seemed to prevail. On that New Year’s Day, French newspaper France Soir printed a smiley logo next to all positive news stories.

The idea became such a huge hit that people started buying the newspaper more, looking for the now iconic smiley, which would lead them to the ‘good news’. Before long, the promotion gained traction and an icon and brand was born.

Before the campaign started in October 1971, Loufrani registered his smiley face with the French trademark office.

When Franklin’s son, Nicolas Loufrani came on board 20 years ago, he looked at the logo – which he had been seeing his entire life – and realised that he wanted to bring in something different, something new.

“I started changing expressions, bringing in different emotions – which later became emoticons. I put them online and they began one of the biggest phenomenon in digital history – it’s a new form of communication now used by people all over the world every day,” Nicolas told IMAGES Retail Bureau on the sidelines of the India Fashion Forum 2018.

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. In 1996, the Loufranis founded the Smiley Company in London built around the Smiley brand.

In 1997, Nicolas created hundreds of emoticons, including a 3D smiley logo. 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. He launched the SmileyWorld brand shortly thereafter.

In the early 2000s, the company licensed the rights to their emoticons to telecom companies, including Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, amongst others. Nicolas Loufrani compiled his graphical emoticons, along with other existing images used for communication, into an online dictionary which was divided into categories, and by 2002, the dictionary included over 3,000 images.

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.

Smiley: The Total Lifestyle Brand

Today, The Smiley Company is present globally in almost 200 countries, working with some of the largest retail groups in the world.

“In the luxury segment, The Smiley Company works with major brands like Moschino and Fendi. We also work with the VF Corporation – their Lee brand – in the denim segment. Apart from this, we have a licensing business with in a lot of other industries including food, home décor, gifting, stationery, publishing and toys. The Smiley brand has a major licensing program which generated US $400 million in 2017,” stated Loufrani.

In India, the company has been working with Lifestyle department stores for many years now, where they cater to men, women and children. The Smiley Company co-creates a range with Lifestyle targeted towards the department store’s consumers. This range offers colours, and choice of the messages relevant to local consumers, providing buyers with the best of both worlds.

“Our products in Lifestyle have been quite successful and that’s why the collaboration with the department store has continued for so many years now. We keep renewing our offerings, which has always been very appealing to the Indian lifestyle customer,” said Loufrani.

He added that in the gifting market, their Indian partner was Archie’s Gift Shops. “We have been working with them for quite some time now too and our offerings include greeting cards. These are important for us because they are the kind of halo products which create the buzz among the young audiences – teenagers and young adults. They’re happy, fun and cool,” he said.

Growing in India

The company has been successful so far in both its collaborations in India, with its bestselling product in the country being the Smiley T-shirt. Now, it’s looking to grow business in the country.

Opening EBOs is part of its on-going expansion strategy, but this of course, will depend on the partners it can sign on.

“We have appointed a major licensing agent – Jiggy George, Founder, Dream Theatre Pvt. Ltd, a pioneer in the Indian licensing and merchandising industry – which works with major international companies in India to help us grow our business in India,” said Loufrani.

Currently, The Smiley Company works with international partners present in India. For example, its partner Lee has our products in India. Then there are chains like Zara, and the likes, which sell The Smiley Company’s internationally developed products in India.

“Our trade strategy is to co-create. We work together with our licensees and partners, with each one bringing in their own values, their own abilities and their own thinking to come up with a product that will be the best possible product for consumers,” said Loufrani.

The Smiley Company has recently signed a deal with Simba, which is a big back-to-school product company to develop backpacks and stationery and school items. It has also a signed major deal with Mondelez, one of the largest food companies in the world for the Cadbury cookie brand.

“We also do a lot of work with Raza Beig, Director, Landmark Group and CEO – Splash and his team in the Middle East. They are one of our biggest partners in the region. These sorts of deals are going to further spread our message of bringing happiness and positive values and spread smiles,” concluded Loufrani.

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