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Neon sign-makers call on industry for support

Over 90 people have signed a letter to the ASA to object to the naming of LED signs as “neon” signs

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Gods Own Junkyard houses one of the largest collections of neon signs outside the US

The art of neon signage has been long affiliated with iconic and vibrant signs in locations around the world like the US, Japan, and the UK. 

Since the introduction of alternative forms of lighting and misconceptions around environmental and safety credentials, the skill of creating neon is now on the Heritage Crafts Association’s Red List of Endangered Crafts. 

Within the past decade, the amount of LED signs and lights created to replicate the look of traditional neon signs has steadily increased, much to the confusion and disappointment of many sign-makers and end-users.

Currently, many LED signs that incorporate typography or a written style are being advertised as “neon signs” or simply “neon” which has led to the decreasing visibility of genuine neon.

In response to this, Catherine Spink, company director of Neon Creations, has started an initiative with the help of the Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) to put an end to what they say is the false advertising of LED signs.

The campaign has been backed by the HCA, including Jay Blades (MBE), presenter of BBC's The Repair Shop and co-chair of the HCA, along with HCA executive director Daniel Carpenter. Spink has now sent a letter addressing the issue, with over 90 supporters, to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Trading Standards.

Speaking to SignLink, Spink says: “I submitted the letter and names of supporters to the ASA on November 6th but have yet to receive a response from them.

“We currently have the support of 94 people directly within the neon sign industry who are mostly based in the UK, but we also have some support from the US and Australia, which is fantastic.”

The Heritage Crafts website cites that the US and the rest of Europe have not suffered the same negative reputation thanks to more designers and artists learning the craft themselves. 

Coloured LED tubes imitating neon glass tubes

In 2021, SignLink and many other publications reported on an originally dubbed “neon wonderland” installation in London’s Covent Garden from artist Chila Burnam.

Upon inspection it became clear the lighting and signage were LED and not traditional neon, highlighting the issue facing manufacturers of neon.

Commenting on this common misconception, Spink says: “It is such a bad issue for us at the moment. As an example, we had an enquiry last week which specifically requested an ‘outdoor neon sign’ yet when we followed up on the quote the response said ‘we did not want the sign to be glass’.

“Similarly, another enquiry specifically said NEON in capital letters, and when we quoted (stating genuine glass neon sign on our quote), they came back and said, ‘Oh sorry, I meant LED!’ This is pretty much a daily occurrence for us.”

The letter to the ASA highlights that numerous businesses are promoting and selling products using Google AdWords, social media, and their own websites to promote “neon signs” when in fact they are LED.

When SignLink reached out to the ASA, the organisation said it was still processing the complaint but stated: "Our rules make it clear that ads must not be misleading. Ads should make it clear what a product is and, where relevant, how it works."

The HCA, of which King Charles III is the president, describes neon sign-making as: “The manipulation of glass tubes with flame and breath, which, when filled with gases through which an electric current is passed, create lighting for signage, advertising, and artworks.”

The letter to the ASA from Spink and the HCA, states: “It stands to reason, that anyone using the terms ‘neon’, ‘neon sign’, or ‘neon light’ within their product titles, descriptions, and advertising, has to be making it in the traditional way, because that is what neon sign-making is.”

Production of neon tubes in a glass-blowing workshop

Professionals who work in the neon sign-making industry say they have been threatened with legal action, social media deletion, and blocking when highlighting the issue to offending businesses.

The letter highlights that these sign-makers have no issue with LED signs and lights with both LED and neon able to co-exist in order to offer buyers a wider range of lighting options. 

“We need to protect the heritage of neon sign-making,” states Spink, adding: “There are many of us whose livelihoods are being affected by the false advertising of LED products as neon, from the actual neon sign-makers and their supporting staff to the suppliers of the neon sign-making components, and manufacturers of the components themselves.”

Spink and the rest of the neon industry are now seeking additional support ahead of the campaign being extended to the wider public from December onwards. 

If you would like to support the campaign or learn more you can contact Spink at catherine@neoncreations.co.uk or call Neon Creations at 01204 655866

If you’d like to share news or opinions with us feel free to email at news@signlink.co.uk or join in with the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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