Advertorial from The Smiley Movement

How the Smiley evolved from newspaper icon to movement for a better world 

Amid a torrent of bad news, more and more people are simply tuning out. Can the Smiley Movement turn the tide with positive journalism and active citizenship?

Smiley celebrates its 50th anniversary

Advertorial from The Smiley Movement

It began on the front page of French newspaper France-Soir, on New Year’s Day 1972. A yellow circle appeared, with two vertical ovals for eyes and a happy curve forming a smile. Who was this sunny visitor among the serious reports? Meet the Smiley – its use the brainchild of Franklin Loufrani, a journalist who had been tasked with promoting good news and reminding people to “take time to smile”.

“the more positive news we read, the better we’re going to feel, and the more we’re going to interact positively with other people”

Nicolas Loufrani

“Whenever there were positive or fun stories, he would put a little Smiley logo,” Nicolas Loufrani explains of his father’s branding brainwave. “It was a way to encourage people to read the stories, because he thought the more positive news we read, the better we’re going to feel, and the more we’re going to interact positively with other people.”

More than five decades on, the evidence is mounting to support Franklin Loufrani’s insight. In a study back in 2014, Facebook secretly manipulated the feeds of 689,003 people and found they could control their mood by feeding them more negative or more positive content. Through a process of “emotional contagion”, users would mirror the stories they were served.

And it’s not just socials. Mainstream media has been influencing emotions at least since the invention of the printing press. ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ was the traditional motto of news editors who knew that fear sells.

In recent years, empirical research showed excessive exposure to media was associated with greater fear and poor mental health during crisis events, including the Ebola outbreak, the Great East Japan earthquake, H1N1 and Covid-19. Those emotions can have real world impacts – several studies have found evidence that negative media coverage shifts attitudes towards migrants, contributing to the rise of populist rhetoric and policy.

“They’ve proven that my father’s idea was true: we do need good news,” says Loufrani.

After the Smiley proved a success in France-Soir, Loufrani’s dad quit his day job as a writer, trademarked the image and set up the Smiley Company, developing creative products and marketing campaigns to spread positivity everywhere through collaboration with brands, retail chains and their suppliers. They still encourage everyone to “take time to smile”. In 1996, Nicolas Loufrani took over as CEO and set about reinventing the organisation for a new digital generation. Among other things, he created the first-ever emoticon dictionary, years before we all had iPhones in our pockets.

“In the ’70s, for him, positive news was just fun, stupid, light stuff. I think we live in a much more complex world.”

Nicolas Loufrani

Then, in 2018, he launched the Smiley Movement – a non-profit platform that gives people the information they need to engage with changemakers in their community. “I wanted to reinvent my father’s idea, but adapted to the times,” explains Loufrani. “In the ’70s, for him, positive news was just fun, stupid, light stuff. I think we live in a much more complex world.”

Just as Loufrani senior’s insight captured French readers in need of levity in the 1970s, his son’s evolution of Smiley responds to very contemporary concerns. The most recent Reuters Digital News Report – the foremost annual study of global media – found that, against the backdrop of a global cost-of-living crisis, continuing war in Europe, and climate instability across the world, many people are simply switching off. Disengagement is on the rise – 36% said they sometimes or often actively try to avoid the news, up by seven percentage points since 2017. These figures are particularly troubling in an election year, when the public will choose the future direction of the country based on our understanding of where we are now.

“People are disengaged with news, they feel helpless and it’s actually a big issue,” says Loufrani. “We have to be informed. We cannot hide, we cannot close our eyes and not watch the truth of the situation.”

The Smiley in the colours of Ukraine, beamed onto County Hall, London, to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

The Smiley Movement aims to re-engage us by offering an antidote to hopelessness. Through Smiley News they share positive stories about inspirational people doing good in the world. Their Smiley Talks bring together campaigners and experts to discuss how we can work together to make our world a better place. And this week they’ll host the Charity Film Awards: the world’s largest cause-based film festival: “It’s grassroots news, told by the people are involved in the change.”
As we do in The Big Issue every week, they’re offering active solutions, not just a litany of problems. “It is really important to tell people: don’t be passive readers of news,” Loufrani explains. “Of course, you cannot change the war in Gaza, but you can help people there. You can help refugees, you can send food, you can send money. And it’s the same with every problem. You can have a positive way to be engaged, instead of just being a passive watcher.”

To be part of the change and support charities around causes you care about, check out Smiley Movement.

These are just some of the Smiley News stories that will help you stay informed and inspired.

The homeless entrepreneur
In the early 2010s Andrew Funk was riding high, running a business that connected investors and entrepreneurs. But when that fell apart, he found himself homeless. Through his connections, Funk was able to get back into work. Determined to give others a way out, he now runs a non-profit that connects people currently experiencing homelessness to those who can help them find housing and employment opportunities.
Read more

‘My daughter was murdered – so I started a charity’
Halimah Ahmed was just 18 when she was murdered by a man who had been stalking her. Her mother, Dr Zareen Roohi Ahmed, vowed to carry on her daughter’s ambitions. “She was an activist,” explains Ahmed. “We had a promise that after she graduated from uni we’d set up our own charity.” Set up in her memory, The Halimah Fund now runs schools for disadvantaged girls in Pakistan.
Read more

The 10-year-old who challenged the world
Growing up in Yemen, Nada Al-Ahdal dreamed of getting an education and becoming a doctor or teacher. But at 10, she was to be married off to an older man. Al-Ahdal escaped and filmed a short video that went viral, awakening the world to the experiences of child brides. She now runs the Nada Foundation, defending children’s rights in Yemen.
Read more
Read more about all these stories – and many other – at smileymovement.org/news

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