The Power Of Lights

An Annapolis company hopes that the spark of celebrity energizes sales of its rainbow bulbs - a product, it says, of style and science.

August 12, 2005|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Behind the scenes at Fox TV's Teen Choice Awards this weekend, celebrities will have a personal shopping spree, bagging free products such as Nokia cell phones, Hello Kitty skateboards, a year's supply of Willy Wonka candy and UGG Australia boots in cornflower blue and orchid.

Among the booty also will be a bag of colored light bulbs, courtesy of a small Annapolis business named Mood-lites. Its product is generating buzz, from college campuses to decorating magazines. The company is betting that the awards program, being taped tomorrow and shown to a nationwide audience Tuesday, will propel it further into the big leagues of popular decor.

As a year-old startup, Mood-lites couldn't afford an expensive national ad campaign. Instead, it figured that if it can get its product into the hands of singers such as Ashlee Simpson or Gwen Stefani, maybe they'll become fans - and their fans will become fans.

"It's very expensive to do any kind of national marketing," said Kathryn Goetzke White, founder, president and chief executive officer. "We were trying to find something where we could gain a lot of traction at one time."

She incorporated Mood-lites in 2002 but began doing business last year. The idea came to her while she was taking a graduate class on reinventing old staples. As a candidate for a master's degree in business administration at St. Thomas University in Minne- sota, with an undergraduate degree in psychology, she thought it a perfect fit for her training.

The bulbs are reminiscent of lava lamps and party lights that were popular in college dormitories 30 years ago, but White said the product is as much about modern science as style. She extensively researched the psychology of color in creating them. Perhaps that's why they have won feature write-ups not just in the likes of Woman's Day and Home magazines, but also in Today's Health and Wellness.

"From my own experience and what I've observed, read and researched, it certainly has been found that mood can be changed by the color that is used," said Leatrice Eiseman, author of Colors For Your Every Mood and the director of the Pantone Color Institute in New Jersey.

Fast-food restaurants once heavily used oranges in their interiors because the color was associated with hunger. Some doctors and dentist offices use shades of blue because it is a calming color.

Mood-lites' seven varieties are supposed to create different moods in whatever room they're placed. It pitches its orange light, which it dubs "energy," for workout rooms because the color of fire and sunsets evokes excitement.

As for the Teen Choice Awards exposure, the value of celebrity use of a product is almost as old as marketing. The trend has become more popular as the mass media and Internet have heightened celebrity culture, while also diluting traditional forms of advertising.

The Australian-made UGG boots, which once warmed surfers' feet, became a fashion hit when Kate Hudson, Sarah Jessica Parker and others were seen in them. Music producer Pharrell Williams brought the grungy trucker hat into the "that's hot" category by wearing it as part of his everyday attire.

"To have a celebrity associated with a product helps boost sales and creates a buzz around the product," said Karen Wood, president and founder of Backstage Creations, which organizes product giveaway rooms for award shows.

Of course, association with a star doesn't always turn out well, experts point out.

"You have to take the bad with the good," said Mandi Norwood, editor-in-chief of SHOP Etc. magazine. "If you don't like Gwen Stefani or are turned off by P Diddy, you're not going to want to buy that product."

Nevertheless, the competition to tap celebrity power is fierce. Companies apply to have their products involved in shows such as the Teen Choice Awards and organizers field hundreds of inquiries from businesses.

Wood of Backstage Creations said Mood-lites was picked because it might appeal to young celebrities at the show.

"I know it's a gamble," said White, whose company is paying $8,000 to $12,000 to involve her product. "But if I can get exposure with a celebrity, it will be worth the payoff."

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