MY LIFE IN LICENSING: Franklin Loufrani

The owner of the Smiley brand looks back over an eventful four and a half decades in the business.
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Name:
Franklin Loufrani

Time spent in licensing industry:
45 Years

Early jobs in licensing:
I was French agent for Superman and Batman with the Licensing Corporation of America in 1965. In 1969 I founded the licensing department of publisher Hachette in France to license the rights to Babar the elephant and other characters from their books. I founded my own company in 1971 and in the following years became the licensing agent for Marvel, Hannah Barbera, Larry Harmon and other big US properties as well as emerging Japanese properties like Goldorak, Prince Saphir and many others. I also took the unusual step for the time of publishing and distributing magazines, records, tapes and, in the late 70s, videotapes to increases awareness of the properties I was handling. You could say that I was the first licensing agent to support his properties through a multimedia campaign.
In the 1980s I worked with Pierre Cardin and other designers to help them leverage their brand equity. I also found time to do some sports licensing with Mark McCormack’s agency.

Current job in licensing:
I am the president of the Smiley Company, and world owner of the rights to the Smiley name and logo and the Smileyworld brand and icons.

Responsibilities?
I mostly handle the finance side, recently refinancing our company with a share capital of 50,000,000 euros.

What is your greatest achievement so far?
Building my own brand with Smiley and, through the creation of different divisions, establishing it as a fashion brand, a character brand and a new photo art brand.

What licence would you most like to have in your portfolio?
I already have it!

What is the best licence you have worked on in your career and why?
The best character brands I have worked on are still doing very well because they have adapted to the times and reinvented themselves. This applies especially to American superhero brands like Spiderman. By contrast many huge Japanese animation successes of the 70s like Goldorak or Albator mean little today.

What is your most embarrassing moment so far?
I am never embarrassed. However, I often embarrass my son with my crazy attitudes.

What would you most like to change about the licensing business?
Licensing agents. They have poor marketing skills, they are not focused, and they do not work like real brand builders and try to understand how to leverage a property. Also, apart from the big TV networks (and me in the 1970s) most of them do not have a real business (such as fashion, greeting cards, toys, gifts or publishing) to launch and support the development of properties they believe in. Whenever we have an office in a country or do direct business there our results are ten times better.
I am also tired of the casual use of the term ‘brand’. Today any art property or cartoon character is described as a brand. A property needs to stand the test of time and have a strong product category that lasts for years: the Marvel character Spiderman and Marvel itself are good examples. It must also have a defined territory with real brand values and be able to hold onto its target audience even as one generation succeeds another. Then, perhaps, it can genuinely be called a brand.

If you hadn't invented Smiley, what would you be doing now?
I would be a writer or a conductor.

Who's got the best smile in the licensing industry?
My son, Nicolas Loufrani. His nickname, believe it or not, was Smiley. He was born in 1971, a few weeks after I launched what is now a trademarked logo; in fact he decided to trademark the Smiley name. Today he is CEO of Smileyworld. He started creating the new Smiley icons in 1996, then brought in style guides and, more recently, rebuilt the property as a fashion brand and created the Smiley photo gallery. He has also added a new dimension to the business through an emphasis on ethical products and our charity, the Smiley World Association. Its motto is: Share your smile with those in need.

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