One man drew a smiley face, while another monetized the simplistic design and made it a worldwide business making $500 million annually.
- The owners of the traditional smiley face—The Smiley Company—generate $500 million yearly in licensing deals, working with companies like Nutella, Clinique, McDonald’s, Nivea, Coca-Cola, VW, and Dunkin’ Donuts, according to The Hustle.
- Royalty fees for the design depend on the size and how it is being used but can sometimes be as high as 10% of the item’s cost.
- The Smiley Company works with more than 300 licensees across 12 major categories, ranging from food items to toys and clothing.
Why it’s news
A simple design can be turned into a multimillion-dollar company, but one mistake can open the door for others to cash in on the product and leave the original with nothing—which is the case for the classic smiley face.
Massachusetts-based freelance artist Harvey Ball created the original smiley face in 1963 as a design project for a life insurance company, which paid Ball a one-time fee of $45 for his design but left out one crucial detail—he did not file a trademark for the design.
After Ball’s design gained popularity, many others started using the smiley on products—placing it on shopping bags, buttons, clothes, and many other items. Since Ball did not place a trademark on the design, he didn’t receive any money from its use.
In the early 1970s in Paris, France, a journalist named Franklin Loufrani worked for the newspaper France-Soir and decided to make a column to highlight positive stories by using a yellow smiling face similar to that of Harvey Ball.
Loufrani realized that his design could begin gaining traction and filed a trademark for the design, and began trying to license the product to other companies. Later in the 1970s, he printed the smiley on stickers and handed them out for free, which set his business ablaze with the smile being featured everywhere.
Two years later, he secured a partnership with candy company Mars, which printed the smiley on a candy similar to M&Ms called Bonitos, followed by partnerships with Levi’s Jeans and many others.
The smiley found success for decades after being used at concerts, raves, on apparel, candy, and other items.
In 1996 the fire behind the smiley face had tapered off, leading Loufrani to put the business in the hands of his then-26-year-old son Nicolas where he did something his father wasn’t keen on—took the smiley digital.
Nicholas took the smiley digital and made a brand based around the famous design called The Smiley Company. The company began making 3D versions of the design on computer formats making the first emoji like character.
The Smiley Company went from being just a logo to a whole brand focused around the character making clothing and other items taking the simple design to a full force business.
Today, The Smiley Company is still in operation by the father son duo based in London and makes around $500 million per year just in licensing deals.
Although Loufrani is the one who made the smiley face a worldwide success, many give him backlash stating that he stole the original design from Harvey Ball, but he ignores the comments stating that he made the design and garnered the success on his own.
For Harvey Ball, he passed away in 2001, but his son said he lived a full life with no regrets, reports The Hustle.