Code cracker

Jul 07 2010

Did you know that in American culture

  • Seduction is manipulation
  • Being fat means you’ve checked out
  • Work is who you are
  • Money is proof
  • Shopping is reconnecting with life

Clotaire Rapaille writes about his last 30 years of work spent unlocking various “culture codes” in his book The Culture Code.   His book contains many insights about the various reference systems that are put in place for all of us at an early age.  By discovering the subconscious emotional attachments we have to various concepts and brands, he’s been able to illuminate the frames that surround these concepts.

“Almost nobody buys with their rational mind,” writes the cultural anthropologist and marketing expert, originally from France but now based in Tuxedo Park, N.Y.  ”The culture code,” writes Rapaille, “is the unconscious meaning we apply to any given thing – a car, a type of food, a relationship, even a country – via the culture in which we are raised.”

Rapaille believes these first, often forgotten experiences colour the way we live and shop for the rest of our lives.  For example, the American experience with Jeeps relates to the frontier and wide-open spaces. Therefore, to sell a Jeep to an American, a marketer must trigger these impulses.

Rapaille is convinced this is the kind of deeply-embedded information that helps global companies design and sell products to different cultures around the world.  He developed these theories while working as a psychotherapist in Paris in the early 1970s. Back then his research centred on the connection between learning and emotion. Rapaille organized “imprinting” sessions around the world to find out how consumers related to such things as love, sex and food. Eventually, he realized that these powerful culturally learned “imprints” could be applied to marketing.

Rapaille explored each country’s “cultural unconscious” and developed a system of codes that would help marketers understand how they could trigger the different shopping impulses in consumers around the globe.  Every one of these companies wanted to know why a product or marketing scheme that worked in one country, seemed to fall flat in another.  According to Rapaille’s theory, the answers could only be found in the collective subconscious of each culture.

Rapaille was never satisfied to ask consumers why they liked to shop or why they favoured one product over another. In fact, he was suspicious of their conscious reasons, even calling them “alibis.”

Our alibis are the ways we explain our motivations-the surface responses typically served up in market research. Which is why, he argues, focus groups don’t work. To get to the “why,” Rapaille stages something closer to a three-hour psychotherapy session-where participants ultimately find themselves lying in fetal position on the floor being asked to channel their earliest childhood memories. (very much like the Censydiam beanbag and hugging approach)

The true motivators were deep in the subconscious, he believed. “The reptilian brain always wins”-that’s Rapaille’s mantra.

Rapaille concentrated much of the book on the American experience.  Once the code was cracked, he learned that the United States has an adolescent and rebellious culture. “The American culture exhibits many of the traits consistent with adolescence: intense focus on the “now,” dramatic mood swings, a constant need for exploration and challenge to authority, a fascination with extremes, openness to change and re-invention and a strong belief that mistakes warrant second chances.”  This, Rapaille says, is why Americans are so successful globally at selling those trappings – Coca-Cola, Nike, fast food, blue jeans, loud music and violent movies. “We are endlessly fascinated with celebrities and all the adolescent mistakes they make,” he writes.

He goes on to codify various cultures’ relationships with love. The American culture code for love is “False Expectation.” The culture code for seduction is “Manipulation.” The American culture code for sex is “Violence.”

These discoveries, Rapaille argues, helped French cosmetics manufacturer L’Oréal alter the way it approached the U.S. market. “While their ads in France were very sensuous and oozed seduction, the last thing they wanted was for the American consumers to feel uncomfortable or manipulated when presented with their products.”

Rapaille also uncovers why people shop and in each culture separates the difference between shopping and buying. He reveals, for example, that shopping for Americans is “Reconnecting With Life.” For them, the act of shopping has more to do with the need to engage socially with the world outside the home than any actual need for goods.

The French, by contrast, associate shopping with tradition and knowledge. The earliest memories French children have of shopping are being taken to the store and learning how to shop wisely. In France, the culture code for shopping is “Learning and Culture.”

Rapaille is a market researcher, political scientist, medical anthropologist, and cultural shrink. Armed with Freudian and Jungian psychoanalytical theory, he seeks to tap a people’s “collective unconscious,” revealing what it means to be Japanese, German, or most recently, Chinese. “The code is like an access code: How do you punch the buttons to open the door?” Rapaille says. “Suddenly, once you get the code, you understand everything. It’s like getting new glasses.”

The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille

Also check out the website

No responses yet

Leave a Reply