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Antiques Are Green

by John Fiske, Editor-in-Chief, New England Antiques Journal

As a business, we are much better at selling antiques to existing collectors than we are at attracting new buyers to the business. To achieve this, we need advertising that is not designed to sell specific antiques, but that is aimed at getting people to incorporate antiques into their existing lifestyle. There’s one easy way to do it, staring us in the face -- antiques are green. Everyone knows that they are, but “greenness” is not what comes first to most peoples’ minds when they think about antiques. Remember those word association games? How can we get “green” to become immediately associated with “antiques”, or, better yet, how can we get “antiques” to become immediately and subconsciously associated with “green”? Think green, think antiques.          

We have the opportunity of a lifetime here: green is hot and antiques are green. Just look at the ads, the TV shows, the Nobel prize! It seems that almost every other advertisement is calling its product green, recycled, eco-friendly – there’s a huge list of ways that greenness is being put into words. I bought a bottle of water yesterday (oh dear, I know that’s an ungreen thing to do, but…) and its label called the bottle’s design “a new eco-shape!” Whatever an eco-shape may be, and I inspected the bottle carefully but couldn’t get the slightest clue, it’s “eco.” Get the public to think of the bottle as eco, and not as polluting plastic, and sales will soar upward – or so the thinking goes. Well, if bottled water can do it, surely we in the antiques business can. It’s far easier to latch onto a trend that’s already in full flow than it is to create a new one. Green is hot, let’s transfer some of its heat to antiques. The greenness of antiques can make them fashionable and trendy: it can break them out of fuddyduddyness and old-fogeydom!

I had also wondered about tagging on to the current concern about recycling, which is a sub-category of green. Buying paper products that are 80 percent recycled may make us feel good, but I’m not sure that the recycled component drives the decision to buy in the first place. Antiques, of course, are recycled, every last one of them, and we can well claim that our business is the largest recycling business in the country. But I doubt if this idea will work. The trouble is that recycling is associated with garbage, indeed, it is almost a category of garbage. This was driven home to me, pointedly, on the highway when an odiferous truck passed me, proudly labeled “Waste Management and Recycling.” Dis-associating recycling from empty soda cans and re-associating it with objects of beauty and value would be a tough job. Green seems much easier.

People really do want to live in this world without damaging it. But, despite their concern for the environment, Americans are generally doing very little, if anything, to reduce the damage they do. Polls tell us that most Americans are deeply concerned about the environment, but, and this is good news for us, they are actually doing very little to change their behavior. Consequently they feel bad about it. The gap between desire and behavior is wide enough to induce slightly uneasy feelings of guilt. Marketing experts recognize that this represents a marketing challenge: how to connect people’s values with products that achieve customer satisfaction and also provide an environmental benefit. The product is there, an antique. The challenge is connecting peoples’ values to it. Antiques do allow people to live comfortably in this world without damaging it.

Here comes our strongest point: behaving green usually involves some self-sacrifice – and how un-American is that! We’re just not good at self-sacrifice – we want convenience, comfort and to feel good about our contributions to saving the planet.
If that’s the problem, antiques are the answer. Antiques call for no self-sacrifice – the opposite in fact, self-indulgence! Green self-indulgence – what could be a more attractive form of consumerism than that! So it ought to be easy to persuade people to buy antiques, because everyone knows that antiques are green, and they don’t involve the slightest bit of self-sacrifice! Right?

Creating common sense

Yes, intellectually, every one knows it. But our behavior is not driven by our reason or our intellect – it’s driven by much simpler, deeper and less persuadable bits of our brains. Which is why every American is subject to thousands of advertisements every day. If we were driven by reason, we’d only need to hear a message once.

With search engines, topics that are searched most often pop up first. Our subconscious minds are a bit like search engines, so with words, the associations that are made most frequently are the ones that pop up first. Which is why, incidentally, psychoanalysts use word associations to get a glimpses into your subconscious. So the more often that the words “green” and “antiques” are associated, the faster one will pop up in response to the other.

There is only one way to make the subconscious associate antiques with green, and that is to whisper it, not shout it, at every possible opportunity. Frequency is one key, subtlety is the other. Blatant messages can arouse opposition: low key, quiet messages, the ones that you hardly notice, these are the messages that bypass the rational mind and penetrate deeper. They finally become common sense, the sense that you never need to think about, but just take for granted.

So we’ve designed a little icon that you can download from our website and use wherever you like – the more often the better. Put it in the corner of every ad you produce (we’ll do it for you if you advertise with us), include it on your business card, on your stationery, anywhere. Group shops, print out a larger version and stand it on your front counter, show promoters and show dealers, do the same. Or design your own icon, it doesn’t matter, all that matters is associating the words. Antiques are green.

Don’t treat it as something you’ve just thought of, treat it as though it’s something that’s already taken-for-granted, a piece of common sense – that’s what we want it to become, so that’s how we need to treat it. If we could make antiques-are-green part of American common-sense, our future would be assured. Let’s give it a try, we’ve got nothing to lose, and the heckuvalot to gain.