GE Bulbs Switch to Color Coding

General Electric finds a creative new way to package bulbs, post new FTC regulation

Twenty-two years ago, the government raised hackles in the food industry by requiring a “Nutrition Facts” label on packaged edibles. Now, regulators have a new target: lightbulbs. Starting this year, the FTC will require the makers of all incandescent, compact fluorescent and LED fixtures to affix a “Lighting Facts” label on their packaging. Not surprisingly, the new reg is something of a high-wattage headache for brands. Not only will the familiar wattage number bow out in favor of a brightness rating in lumens, brands will also have to classify their bulbs according to the “light appearance.”

Never mind that most consumers wouldn’t know a lumen if it bit them—how does a brand go about describing the appearance of a ray of light? For General Electric at least, the answer lay in new packaging. GE is currently rolling out a series of five new boxes that’ll hit store shelves by summer and, it hopes, change the way Americans do their bulb shopping. The FTC-mandated label will appear (where else?) on the back of the boxes. But on the front, GE will use a series of five colors—each with a corresponding phrase to describe the bulb’s light.

For example, the lowest-power bulb (210 lumens) comes in a lavender box labeled “subtle, reassuring light,” while the higher-power 1,170-lumen bulb’s box is bright green termed as “fresh, energizing light.”

How’d GE get turned on to this idea? Company research revealed that consumers tend to compare bulb brightness with the way the sun appears during various times of the day, says GE’s lighting brand manager Carmen Pastore, and “the package colors follow that pattern. The brightest pillar is yellow, like noonday sun. The middle pillars highlight the green, blues and reddish-orange as the sun sets—think of the color of the sky just before sunset.” Modifiers like “inviting” and “cozy,” he adds, work with the colors to allow shoppers to align their bulb buying according to their “mood and feeling.”

Which is quite a bit of marketing science just for a simple lightbulb. The good news? You still don’t need to know, or care, what a lumen is.