Link to Home: Lighting A Revolution  


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 him–mainly 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.

Unisphere on the cover of Life, May 1964
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.


Public Installations

Statue of Liberty after relamping, 1986
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.


Print Media

Duro-Test ad for compact fluorescent work-light, about 1997
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 industry practice.


Broadcast Media

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

Rebate coupons for compact fluorescent lamps, 1994
CFL rebate coupons
S.I. image #lar2-3a1


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.

Experimental Electronic Halarc lamps, 1980
Electronic Halarc lamps
S.I. image #lar2-3b1

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 slightly different 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.

GE 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.

To Modern Competition To Promoting Edison's Lamp

To 19th
Century Hall
To 20th
Century Hall
Guest Lounge