Lighting manufacturers are targeting consumers with advertisements that teach a thing or two about light.

» Attention consumers: The lighting in your home could be better. This is the message delivered through several consumer-targeted ad campaigns recently launched by manufacturers of lighting and lighting-related equipment, including Philips, Leviton, Lutron, and Sea Gull. Even without lighting on the brain, it is hard to miss this marketing trend.
The Philips advertising program, which encourages readers to 'see what's possible with Philips Lighting,' is currently running in magazines like Real Simple and Dwell, as well as on major television networks and cable channels. Leviton's 'Finishing Touch' print ads for the Decora line of wiring devices are appearing in Better Homes and Gardens publications and House Beautiful, and will ultimately reach more than 2 million people, according to the company. A two-page spread in a recent issue of Dwell featuring Lutron's Sivoia QED control system warns consumers to protect their homes from damaging sunlight by 'integrating electric and natural light into a convenient one-touch control.' Another Lutron ad in Oprah Home explains that dimming can be both 'practical and beautiful.'

Why bother advertising in someone else's magazine when you can publish your own. Sea Gull launched its 'Bring It Home' publication last June. Featuring trends and tips for home lighting, the magazine will reach consumers at partnering showrooms across the country. Leviton also puts out a quarterly pub-lication, through the Leviton Institute, with content directed at the consumer. Even furniture retailers are jumping on the bandwagon: Design Within Reach recently hosted an event at its Brooklyn, New York, store on designing with light, covering topics like how to fight winter darkness or make a small apartment look bigger.

This marks a noteworthy shift in the traditional approach to marketing lighting products to the homeowner-which was, basically, no approach. 'Lighting,' says Steve Goldmacher, director of corporate communications for Philips, 'has histori-cally been one of the least advertised categories for consumer use.' This year, however, the Philips Lighting division's advertising commitment has tripled. 'In the last few years, we were looking at $3 to $5 million in any given year. This year it will be $15 million.' The ads, which are one page or a two-page spread, are part of the larger 'Sense and Simplicity' campaign initiated when the company realigned its business worldwide. It is also interesting that, while a portion of this will be spent on schedules in trade books, Goldmacher says that amount is not slated to change much over previous years. The expanded budget will primarily be spent communicating with consumers.

Philips is not alone. Though he would not give a dollar amount, Jay Sherman, director of marketing for Leviton's residential products division, noted that the company had 'definitely' increased its consumer advertising in the last few years. 'Traditionally Leviton's ads targeted professionals-builders, architects, electri-cal contractors,' he says. 'What we have done with this program is target special interest publications.' The current Decora campaign is a follow-up to Leviton's 'Decorators Talk Decora' program launched in 2001, which Sherman says began the company's communication with the homeowner.

Dumbed Down? Hardly

In addition to expanding their ad cam-paigns, manufacturers are delivering surprisingly complex messages, broaching topics that could be chapter headings in a lighting design manual. Lutron's Sivoia QED ad speaks to an issue that is relatively new even to the design community: the integration of daylight and electric light. The Lutron ad in Oprah Home explains to readers that dimming actually extends lamp life. The Philips taglines-for example, 'Maybe you're not getting older. Maybe you need new lighting'-alert consumers to the issue and effects of color rendition. An interactive presentation on the company's website explains the difference between ambient, task, and decorative lighting layers, walking the site visitor through lighting design ideas (including both lamps and fixture types) for various residential spaces. 'We are trying to teach people that this isn't the same old incandescent light bulb; there are alternatives to do things better,' says Goldmacher. 'We have over 350 types of bulbs at Home Depot, but most people only think of one or two.'

Certainly, part of the manufacturers' agenda is to grab and hold the attention of the consumer, which a straight plug for lamps and switches alone is not likely to do. 'If I start talking to you about light bulbs, your eyes will glaze over in 30 seconds, but if I ask you about the lighting problems in your house, you might talk for two hours,' says Goldmacher. 'The idea was if we look at the solutions to those problems, as opposed to the bulbs themselves, people would be more interested.' Other aspects of the company's campaign could make potential buyers downright starry-eyed: Philips has partnered with Stephen Saint-Onge, a designer featured on the TLC series 'While You Were Out,' to help engage and educate the consumer. Saint-Onge, through in-person clinics at venues like Home Depot, as well as makeovers and how-to articles on the Philips website, is spreading the design word, including a 'How to Design with Light' campaign. Web Exclusive: Please click here for a transcript of A|L's interview with Stephen Saint-Onge.

Moreover, with expanded product offerings, more clarification is needed. It takes time to understand the difference between 350 lamps, or slide versus pre-programmed dimmers. 'Lighting controls have seen changes in terms of function and aesthetic,' says Sherman. 'There is a wider range of styles and controls. The functionality has also changed, with the preset products. Not everyone is aware that those options exist.'

Consumers must also be given credit for their growing capacity to appreciate the message, which is in part due to the barrage of home-improvement programs and design-related content and magazines for the layman. 'Clients are much more hands on and more informed,' says Saint-Onge. 'They are seeing magazines and TV shows, and learning more about the products that are out there. They may not know immediately how it will all come together in their own house, but they definitely have more visuals to inspire them.' This, combined with record activity in the residential real estate market, bodes well for all companies with a stake in the home renovation process. According to the National Association of Realtors' data for October 2004, sales of existing single-family homes held steady at 6.75 million units, setting a pace that the association says is the fourth highest on record. And it is known, according to Sherman, that within six months of an existing home switching hands, the new owner will make a number of cosmetic changes. With the activity and interest level in place, the challenge becomes convincing homeowners to incorporate lighting updates into their renovation plans.

The Larger Cause

This is the point at which designers should perk up. Admittedly, these advertising campaigns are intended first and foremost to make money for the company in question; secondarily, however, they educate the general populous about a topic that has lingered in the murk of daily life. Creating awareness around this subject will benefit all parties involved in the lighting arena, both manufacturers and designers. Most manufacturers will not have the inclination or the budget to address the consumer. Tapping this segment requires having the right distribution channels in place, a very complex process, says William Schoenfisch, whose company Schoenfisch Incorporated has represented lighting manufacturers for 37 years, and currently has 25 companies in its stable-none of which market to the consumer. 'They need to consider whether they will use the Internet, catalogues, big-box retailers, mom-and-pop shops, or furniture showrooms,' he says. 'They have all of these choices to rationalize.' Advertising in consumer publications is also a significant financial commitment. Nevertheless, manufacturers peripheral to the trend still stand to benefit from the residual effects of an increased awareness.

Lighting-centric designers and architects could experience a similar side-effect, and those that have not thought much about this medium may find it entering conversations with the client more frequently, or so manufacturers targeting this segment hope. Particularly with residential design-in which the owner is also typically the end-user, and therefore tends to be very involved in the design process-reaching the consumer is equivalent to reaching the architect/ interior designer. 'We recognize that people tear ads and photos from publications to show their architects and builders the look and feel they want,' says Sherman. 'We see the consumer as the ultimate specifier, working in partnership with the professional.' If these campaigns have the desired effect, it may well be the consumer and lighting manufacturer that ultimately partner to educate the design industry. emilie sommerhoff