Once you understand the code, you understand why people do what they do

Interview with Clotaire Rapaille:

What are codes?

Once you understand the code, you understand why people do what they do. For example, the code for the French — once you understand the code, you may understand why [French president Jacques] Chirac reacted this way to Bush, because for the French, the code is “to think.” That’s it: to think. “I think, therefore I am” — not “I do,” “I think.” The French believe [that they are] the only thinkers of the world and that they think for the rest of the world. They believe that Americans never think; they just do things without knowing why. And so in this situation, where Bush say[s], “Let’s do it,” the French say, “No, wait, think; we need to think.”

Now, what you have to understand about the French culture is “to think” is enough. You don’t need to do anything with your thinking. The French philosopher would say, “I think, therefore I am,” where in America you have Nextel, this campaign, fantastic, “I do, therefore I am,” not “I think.” I think they’re right on target with the American code.

An example of how he helped Folgers crack the ‘code’ for coffee:

Now, the limit of what I do versus other marketing research is once I discover the code of coffee, [it’s] done; I cannot do it twice. I’ve done coffee for Folgers. Folgers owns it; it has been using it for 12 years. I can’t do coffee again. It’s done. It’s a discovery, and once you get the code, suddenly everything starts making sense, and now we understand why the Americans behave like this. Now we understand why coffee this way works and coffee this way doesn’t work. I understand why a small $29,000 Cadillac cannot sell. I understand why — because it’s off code.

How does Folgers go about owning it?

That’s a very interesting question, because at the beginning they told me: “Coffee is a commodity. How can we own something that the others do not own?” My experience is that when there is a code, it’s more complex than that. There is a code and a consistency checklist. Everything has to be on code. Everything you do should reinforce the code; not just the packaging or the communication should be on code. The leaflet, the brochures, everything should be on code. And if you are the first one to position yourself like that, knowing all the different aspects, you have a competitive edge. They might try to copy, but they don’t know the formula; they don’t know the code behind it.

For example, aroma is number one. Why? Because we imprint the aroma first, not the taste. Aroma is imprinted at a very early age, when you are around 2. Ah, and it means home, mother, feeding you, love and so on. A large majority, 90-something percent of Americans, love the aroma of coffee. Only 47 percent like the taste.
I don’t know if you remember this commercial, but it was really on code. You have a young guy coming from the Army in a uniform. Mother is upstairs asleep. He goes directly to the kitchen, “Psssst,” open the coffee, and the smell — you know, because we designed the packaging to make sure that you smelled it right away. He prepares coffee; coffee goes up; the smell goes upstairs; the mother is asleep; she wakes up; she smiles. And we know the word she is going to say, because the code for aroma is “home.” So she is going to say, “Oh, he is home.” She rushed down the stairs, hugged the boy. I mean, we tested it. At P&G they test everything 400 times. People were crying. Why? Because we got the logic of emotion right.

On Jeeps:

When I worked with Chrysler, for example, we discovered that Jeeps should not have square headlights. That’s a very practical thing: no square headlights. Why? I don’t want to go into anything secret, but let’s suppose the code for a Jeep is an animal like a horse. You don’t see a horse with square eyes. The Jeep people didn’t say that; they said, “Yes, I want round headlights, like a face.” And we use the face of the Jeep with the grille as a logo for Jeep. So when I discovered that, that was like a very reptilian dimension. And since then, no Jeep Wranglers have square headlights.

What is the difference between good and bad marketing research? It works. Good marketing research works. When we say it works, it means that marketers understand the real need of the customers — sometimes unspoken — and they deliver. Right now you have a whole industry — the airline industry — that doesn’t understand at all their customers. They’re making big, big mistake. They still don’t understand. Why? Because they have marketing research that goes to the people and says: “What do you want? Do you want cheaper or more expensive?” And of course people say cheaper. So they say, “You see, they want cheaper, so we’re going to give them cheaper airlines, cheaper, cheaper.” Now this is how, in terms of reptilian, [cheaper is interpreted]: “I can’t breathe; I can’t move; they don’t feed me.” This is awful, right? So I’m not flying anymore. I drive my car. Why? Because they’ve not taken care of my reptilian. And then emotionally they treat me like, you know, [I’m] checking [into] a high-security prison.


How can I decode this kind of behavior which is not a word? My theory is very simple: The reptilian always wins. I don’t care what you’re going to tell me intellectually. I don’t care. Give me the reptilian. Why? Because the reptilian always wins.

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