Lighting brand value plummets in changing SSL landscape (MAGAZINE)

June 10, 2020
MAURY WRIGHT considers the shifting strategies in how product branding is utilized in the contemporary solid-state lighting sector.

Life was so much simpler in the heyday of the iconic brands. No IT guy was fired for buying IBM computers. And for consumers, GE appliances were the gold standard. What about for the lighting industry? Well, even a decade ago when LEDs led me into covering the lighting business, there were the big three in GE Lighting, Philips, and Osram Sylvania. And I can’t decide if it was the transition to solid-state lighting (SSL) that changed everything or simply a changing methodology in product development and manufacture that went far beyond the lighting sector. In either case, I’m not so sure that the brand bingo will be good for our sector.

The root of the issue, I believe, is the supply chain and the fact that manufacturers across many industries inevitably turn to low-wage regions for commodity goods. I was an early admirer of Weber Grills — the charcoal kettles to a degree but more so the early Weber Genesis gas grills. Those Genesis designs were the first consumer-targeted gas grills that actually worked. But Weber has turned to a China supplier for most of its consumer-targeted products sold at major retailers.

And if grill manufacturing can go, what would you expect of electronics or lighting? Ironically, the LED transition hastened the move of the lighting supply chain. The heavily-fractured lighting sector could happily bend sheet metal regionally, but the move to electronic assembly required the help of the China-based contract manufacturers. That reality, of course, has resulted in something of a race to the bottom that severely hurt the industry that was then body-slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But I digress, as that is not my premise here.

Instead, I was thinking about how the move to contract manufacturing ultimately has taken away the value in brands. The product you buy labeled GE likely has no better design or manufacturing quality than the alternative without a recognizable brand. The major companies would argue that they do the design and police the contract supply chain, but increasingly the major brands don’t even believe that story.

What brought this on? Even the brands are fading. Just before I wrote this column I wrote the story about GE selling off GE Lighting. The Philips brand still exists, but it’s made by Signify. In fairness, the Sylvania brand had been fractured and cheapened before I came into lighting. Osram doesn’t even make lighting products any longer. LEDvance is now the biggest name behind Sylvania. Frankly, the LEDvance brand has become more visible. You will be able to buy SSL products with a GE brand from three or maybe more vendors. I don’t how broadly they licensed the brand.

I know companies across industries didn’t sit in strategy meetings and discuss how they were going to deflate the value of brands. But that is what happened. I’m not nearly so enamored with Weber Grills these days. I might still buy one, but it will come from their premium line. Search the web and you can discover the products still completely designed and controlled by Weber engineers. Now I’m not sure how the brand bingo will impact the lighting sector. There’s no longer a go-to brand, and no “buy XYZ” products mantra for a facility manager or designer/specifier that ensures continued employment.

I hope we see some of the up-and-coming brands succeed. And I hope the fractured companies survive and revive under new names. The LED and SSL sectors need that.

Maury Wright


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About the Author

Maury Wright | Editor in Chief

Maury Wright is an electronics engineer turned technology journalist, who has focused specifically on the LED & Lighting industry for the past decade. Wright first wrote for LEDs Magazine as a contractor in 2010, and took over as Editor-in-Chief in 2012. He has broad experience in technology areas ranging from microprocessors to digital media to wireless networks that he gained over 30 years in the trade press. Wright has experience running global editorial operations, such as during his tenure as worldwide editorial director of EDN Magazine, and has been instrumental in launching publication websites going back to the earliest days of the Internet. Wright has won numerous industry awards, including multiple ASBPE national awards for B2B journalism excellence, and has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards. He received a BS in electrical engineering from Auburn University.