We Need to Vaccinate the Lighting Market Against SSL HCV (Hype Clown Virus)

Posted: December 8, 2009 in General Commentary, General SSL Commentary, Uncategorized
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I am personally exhausted with the constant barrage of PR hype clowns that have invaded the entire SSL market space, it’s like a bad virus that feeds on active brain cells like some zombie brain eating monster that insists on howling at the top of its lungs whenever it thinks its done something interesting. The lighting market has always had a little bit of a stomach pit inducing illness, with claims made that are silly and obviously not founded on the reality normal humans are forced to exist within. However, what has been happening over the last 5 years coming from the SSL universe is an all new illness, it’s far more aggressive, and more painful.

Part of this is due to a change in paradigm regarding marketing. In the past, lighting companies employed in-house marketing people, who used local marketing agencies to place ads, or do some graphic work on catalogs. I know, as this is the function I performed for three leading product manufacturers for almost 20 years. We communicated to our target audience through reps, catalog sheets, web sites, trade shows, and an occasional letter campaign. Few actually used big PR agencies with broad marketing campaigns aimed into the wind. Know why? Simple, they are really expensive, so were never even considered as affordable, let alone useful. Most have zero knowledge of the market, think that that lack of knowledge is not an issue, and cost more for a few press releases than most total marketing budgets for an entire year. It takes the funding of venture capital to back a company with the funds needed to spend what they do on PR, while at the same time producing the need to broadcast their message to the world at large to support investors who are outside this market. The result, we now have a pile of non-lighting PR agencies with bullhorns, blaring whatever their customer companies (also non-lighting people) tell them is news to our once relatively quiet lighting world. The resulting din is akin to a neighbor who can’t seem to listen to music without cranking the dial up on an expensive amp to “11”. To make matters worse, the music selection is like bump-bump rap, the same noise, over and over and over, drumming and pounding messages of efficacy world records and earth shattering performance that will save the planet from certain destruction by incandescence, and fluorescence.

To make all of this even more painful, is that this virus is unpredictable. One day I get pounded with three releases that when exposed to the light of day squirm off the screen and hide under a table.  You’ve seen them, the claims of a 12W LED product with a CBCP of 4,000, and 800 lumens beating a 70W Ceramic Metal Halide producing 22,000 CBCP and 2,100 lumens – or the claims that the LEDs used will last a lifetime, or that if everyone used the product, our teeth would become whiter, and our skin smoother. Anything goes here, from claims of efficacies of 180 lumens per watt (at some stupid CCT), to performance comparisons that are simply fiction no matter how you look at it. Then, the next day, you get an interesting release about a color control system that, well, oddly enough… actually provides something useful and interesting. Unfortunately the ratio of garbage to inspiration is heavily weighted toward the landfill side of the formula.

The cultural shift that surrounds solid-state is not founded on anything the electronics gurus believe. Contrary to the impression that we are slow-witted laggards, we lighting people will absorb and put SSL, to use,  just as we have every other useful technology that has come before it. When the SSL providers actually produce lighting product (not just the LEDs, not just an electronic gadget, but a real live luminaire product) we will find uses for it, IF it works, produces a benefit beyond just using LEDs, and if the price makes sense in balance to the benefits realized. By this, I mean benefits in lighting terms, as we define it, not in terms of PR baloney, engineer pipe dreams, or marketing department trickery – I mean in real terms, using real data, real photometric tests, etc… The electronics gurus give us too little credit here, and don’t see where the real culture clash is founded – a huge difference in the perception of money.

The difference between an SSL start up and a lighting industry start up is spectacular. The vast majority of lighting industry startups began from the personal checkbooks and savings accounts of individuals, who worked their way into a market one step at a time, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, and rarely with much fanfare from expensive marketing entities from New York or Chicago executive towers. We are talking about real world, grass roots, dirty hands startups. Solid-state startups, at least by the time we see them, have a lot more money at hand… a lot. Most have more cash from venture capitalists than most lighting company startups realize in total sales after 20 years of effort. Having a starting fund of $20M is not unusual in an SSL startup, while I personally know of dozens of lighting manufacturers who started with less than a few thousand, scraped out of personal savings.

The result of all of this, like the invasion of South America by the Spaniards, is the spread of SSL Hype Clown Virus. A lyric from a recent Pink! album (Funhouse) illustrates this well… “This museum’s full of ash, once a tickle, now a rash… this used to be a fun house, now its filled with evil clowns….” Unfortunately, behind all this overly aggressive and ridiculous press is a population of really creative technicians, who are making strides and inventing new things we will all come to put to work. It’s kind of like having a best friend married to a loud and obnoxious partner – in the end you avoid them both to maintain sanity. There is a part of this happening in the adoption cycle of SSL. There are more than a few potential customers who are so sickened by SSL HCV they can’t see the great technology behind it.

There needs to be some effort to vaccinate this market from the most aggressive forms of the PR sickness. This can only come from the solid-state providers themselves, reigning in what has become a real evil-clown parade, leaving behind horse apples and associated stench. We lighting people are not going to respond to this positively. We have heard so much trash talk, been promised the impossible, and seen so many ridiculous claims, that we’re becoming deaf to the noise, reducing the effectiveness of any releases going forward anyway. Might as well try a new angle – clarity, realistic statements, backed by independent test results and data we can all put to use. Fire the high power marketing agencies, spend the money on more product, and communicate to us all like the professionals we are.

Comments
  1. Ken Reynar says:

    The signal/noise ratio is truly off the charts with SSL. I find myself doing exactly what you wrote – simply turning it all off and inevitably missing the good things that are above the din. I don’t have the time nor inclination to filter the wheat from the chaff with this stuff and too readily dismiss all of the technology as a result.

    Too bad that marketing is ultimately slowing the acceptance of SSL by a lot of people, myself included.

    Great column.

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