Friday, June 15, 2007

The Culture Code

An ingenious way to understand why people around the world live and buy as they do

This intriguing book by Clotaire Rapaille posits an interesting premise; that very often we prefer or purchase things for reasons not apparent to our rational minds. OK, actually we all kind of know that, but his analysis and findings are revealing. His background as a psychoanalyst in Paris working with autistic children turned out to be a goldmine when he developed a clientele of Fortune 500 companies. His skills were ideal for getting past the answers from the conscious mind ("alibis", which also matter) so often garnered in market research, and delving into what he calls "the reptilian mind," where the earliest experiences are recorded, as well as the emotions attached to them. Rapaille considers these emotions to be of prime importance, because the emotions determine our preferences, even for such mundane items as cars and coffee.

His means of getting to the reptilian mind is painstaking. First, an hour of playing space alien, getting his subjects to describe to him, say, coffee. What is it? Can you wear it? Oh, you drink it? How? Where? Then, an hour of collaging words about coffee. The third hour is spent laying on the floor on pillows, while he talks them back to their earliest memories about coffee, the first time they consciously experienced it, and their most significant memory of it. Uncovering these imprints, which are formed by age seven, helps determine how to position a product.

The coffee research took place in Japan, where Nestle was trying to sell coffee without success. Rapaille's research showed that most Japanese have no imprint of coffee at all, so trying to replace tea with coffee was doomed to failure. Nestle's strategy, based on this research, was to start selling coffee-flavored desserts for children, which allowed them to literally grow their market, a strategy which ultimately succeeded for them.

Rapaille also explains that these imprints are not only individual, but also cultural, and these cultural imprints have codes that bring the emotions associated with these imprints to the fore. If you tap into the code, you can use it to sell a product. For example, Chrysler was trying to sell the Jeep as an SUV without success. Research indicated that the American culture code for a Jeep was Horse - transportation across rough terrain with the wind in your hair, free-spirited etc. because this was the earliest experience most Americans had with a Jeep. Thus, advertising a Jeep as a vehicle that would rescue you from a crumbling cliff ledge resonates strongly with Americans. In Europe, however, the Jeep is associated with Freedom, based on the European World War II experience, so freedom-based advertising was far more effective in Europe.

So, here are some culture codes for Americans:
toilet-paper = independence
peanut butter = mother's love & nurture (comfort food)
cheese = dead
cars = identity
love = false expectation
seduction = manipulation
sex = violence
beauty = man's salvation
fat = checking out
health & wellness = movement
doctors = heroes
hospital = processing plant
youth (the appearance) = mask
home = the prefix "re-"
also, home = where your "stuff" is
Betty Crocker = the soul of the kitchen
dinner = essential circle
work = who you are
money = proof
perfection = death
quality = it works
food = fuel
alcohol = gun
shopping = reconnecting with life
luxury = military stripes
US President = Moses
American = dream

and for the French:
wedding = gustatory excess
cheese = alive
shopping = learning your culture
Americans = space travellers
France = idea

and the Germans:
cars = engineering
Americans = John Wayne
Germany = order

and the English:
Americans = unashamedly abundant
England = class

and the Canadians:
Canada = to keep

Naturally, all this is presented with compelling evidence. The above notes are to jar my memory. But perhaps they will intrigue you, and if they do, consider reading The Culture Code.


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