Promoting Modern Lamps
"It's one thing to develop a product, but somehow you've got to market it. We develop
products now with specific market applications in sight."
(William Roche, engineer, OSRAM SYLVANIA, 1996)
Most of Edison's inventions were also aimed at particular markets. He knew that
products had to be promoted, and he knew how to use the media available to himmainly
newspapers, magazines, and live demonstrations. But, as he found out, sometimes
even the best promotion couldn't guarantee success.
Some promotional tools available to the modern lamp inventor are little changed from
Edison's time. Newspapers and magazines (especially trade and professional journals)
are major promotional vehicles. And live demonstrations, whether at trade shows or in
actual, high-profile installations, are still quite common.
Perhaps the biggest change lies in the institutionalization of promotion. Corporate lamp
inventors today have little responsibility for promoting their invention to customers,
aside from posing for photos at a press event. Sales and marketing departments
design advertising campaigns and often define likely market targets. And this modern
professional promoter has access to media undreamt of in the 1880s, some of which
are reviewed below.
World's Fairs & Trade Shows
In the years since Edison's display at the Centennial Exhibition, world's fairs continued
to play a role in the introduction of new products. Fluorescent tubes were introduced
simultaneously at the New York World's Fair and the (San Francisco) Golden Gate
Exposition in 1939.
Tungsten halogen demonstration
S.I. image #99-4081
Even more fruitful was the 1964 New York World's Fair. Both tungsten-halogen and
metal-halide lamps were introduced to the public at this event. As seen on the cover of
Life, national capitals were marked by tungsten-halogen lamps on the Unisphere.
Special fixtures were used so that if a lamp failed, another would rotate into place.
Trade shows give lamp marketers the opportunity to introduce products to wholesalers
and retailers, as well as to equipment manufacturers who might incorporate lamps into
their products. Once shown as part of general electrical shows, there are now several
trade shows devoted wholly to lighting.
Metal halide demonstration
S.I. image #99-4120
Large public demonstrations, like the 1986 relighting of the Statue of Liberty, have also
given makers an opportunity to show their product. A special metal-halide lamp was
designed by GE inventor Gilbert Reiling for the Liberty project. Fusion Systems placed
three demonstration Sulfur Lamps in the Space Gallery of the National Air & Space
Museum in 1994.
These types of demonstrations are not limited to the U.S. In 1995, Dutch lamp-maker
Philips installed their "QL" electrodeless compact fluorescent lamps behind the
clock faces of London's Big Ben in 1995.
Ad for CFL conversion kit
S.I. image #99-4090
Print ads have been a staple of the lighting industry since Edison's day. These ads may
come directly from the lamp maker, like the one to the right, or from a wholesaler or retailer. Cooperative
programs, in which manufacturers share advertising costs with retailers, is a common
Radio became the new way to reach into homes during the 1930s. While print ads still
predominated and door-to-door sales continued, the popularity of radio allowed
corporate lamp makers to reach a broad audience. Television extended this reach in
the 1950s and 60s.
The recent emergence of the World Wide Web as a popular medium has not gone
unnoticed by lamp makers. Lamp makers are using the web to advertise and to
disseminate technical information about their products.
Direct Mail and DSM
CFL rebate coupons
Direct mail advertising was a promotional staple of the
20th century. In the 1960s, some
electric utilities mailed free, high-wattage light bulbs to customers as part of
"load building" programs designed to boost electricity consumption.
This type of promotion
turned completely around in the 1980s and 1990s, when many utilities gave away compact
fluorescent lamps as part of "Demand Side Management" programs designed
to slow the growth in demand for electric power.
The Halarc Adventure: When Promotion Fails
"All of a sudden it was a big project and we had all kinds of meetings and inventions-of-the-week and, ah, just terrible."
(Elmer Fridrich, former GE engineer, 1996)
"It was a disaster."
(Gilbert Reiling, former GE engineer, 1996)
"This was the first electric light to be sold with an instruction manual."
(Lee Anderson, Lighting Program Manager, Department of Energy, 1996.)
Sometimes, no amount of advertising will sell a product. At the time of the energy crisis
of 1973, the metal halide lamp was being used successfully for outdoor lighting.
Experiments with miniature metal halide lamps had been conducted by GE engineer
(and tungsten halogen co-inventor) Elmer Fridrich for several years. Though Fridrich
proposed making lamps for commercial and industrial customers, GE managers saw an
opportunity to develop a low-intensity version for home use.
Electronic Halarc lamps
There were technical problems in making a residential metal halide lamp, some of
which were due to basic limitations of physics. The lamp had a warm-up time of about
three minutes, could only be used in an upright position, and did not produce a full,
continuous spectrum like an incandescent lamp. As a result colors appeared
under this light. But by 1980 GE had a lamp that achieved about 40 lumens per watt, double the energy efficiency of regular incandescent lamps.
introduced the "Electronic Halarc" lamp in 1981 to great fanfare. But consumers
found the limitations of metal halide technology unacceptable, and also balked at the
cost: about $15 (that would be about $30 today). Equally important, public concern
about conserving energy had abated. For those still interested, an alternative
product, compact fluorescent
lamps, had by then reached the market. Despite the millions of
dollars GE spent on promotion, the lamp was no longer available in 1984.