2 Min Read
Selling a Smile
The smiley face has been a staple in American culture for decades.
From takeout bags to t-shirts to emojis, the icon has penetrated our collective consciousness.
In 1963, Harvey Ball (not that one), a freelance artist based in Massachusetts, got a call from one of his clients looking to boost employee morale with a fun design they could use on posters around the office.
It took Ball only 10 minutes to create the iconic yellow circle with two black ovals for eyes and a crescent-shaped smile.
And it earned him $45.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, someone else had a more lucrative idea for the symbol. In 1971, journalist Franklin Loufrani started using a yellow smiley face to call out positive news stories for readers of his Parisian newspaper.
Having foresight, Loufrani secured a trademark for his icon and immediately began licensing it to anyone interested. But it wasn’t many – at first.
Riding the Culture Wave
Around the same time Loufrani started marketing his smiley face, a countercultural movement was growing in France. Loufrani saw the natural connection to his symbol and began handing out stickers on the streets.
The smiley took on a new life as a signifier of the movement and soon it was everywhere. Brands across the globe were calling to get their hands on it, with Levi’s notably being one the first to put a smiley face on its products.
Since then, the smiley has been adopted by new generations – from ravers in the 80s to texters of the 2000s.
While the smiley conveys happiness to most people, its meaning has always been open to interpretation. The simplicity of its design has allowed it to evolve and morph into different messages over the years, keeping it alive and profitable.
The Smiley Company, Loufrani’s formal business, rakes in nearly $500 million in licensing deals a year. And all our friend Harvey Ball ever got was, well, his $45.