PR Lessons from the Lava Lamp’s 50-Year Run

Image: Ryan R. Reed
Image: Ryan R. Reed

The noble lava lamp hit British shelves 50 years ago, according to the AP. Enduring, adaptive and eternally cool (hey, if you can still buy one, there's still a demand), we took a long look at the lamp's half-century lifespan and derived the following three lessons for PR professionals.

1. Be adaptable. The inventor of lava lamps, Edward Craven Walker, didn't intend for them to be synonymous with the psychedelic set. According to The Smithsonian, "an ad in a 1968 edition of the American Bar Association Journal touted the “executive” model—mounted on a walnut base alongside a ballpoint pen." While it went into the doldrums in the 1980s, the lava lamp shined anew in the 1990s. The point is that sometimes people respond in unexpected ways. As long as it's not overwhelmingly negative, it's a PR pro's job to capitalize on that response.

2. A product doesn't have to be useful to be successful. Let's face it. When it comes to choosing a device that provides ample light, lava lamps wouldn't be anyone's first choice. And yet, here we are 50 years later. It's something to keep in mind the next time you're faced with figuring out the messaging for an offbeat product or service. Think outside the box and think about the historic zeitgeist.

3. Move forward, but don't forget your loyal customers. Learn from JCPenney's monumental mistakes and avoid alienating those consumers who were there when it all began. Mathmos, the company that Craven Walker founded in the 1960s, has debuted several new models of ambient lights, according to its website. That said, The Smithsonian discovered that the company still takes orders from original 1960s-era owners who need replacement bulbs. Score one for longevity.

Follow Lucia Davis: @LKCDavis.