Clotaire Rapaille believes all purchasing decisions lie beyond conscious thinking and emotion and reside at a primal core. He helps Fortune 500 companies discover “the code” (i.e. unconscious associations for their products) that will help them increase sales.
In this interview, he talks about the limits of traditional market research.
They are too cortex, which means that they think too much, and then they ask people to think and to tell them what they think. Now, my experience is that most of the time, people have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. They have no idea, so they’re going to try to make up something that makes sense. Why do you need a Hummer to go shopping? “Well, you see, because in case there is a snowstorm.” No. Why [do] you buy four wheel drive? “Well, you know, in case I need to go off-road.” Well, you live in Manhattan; why do you need four wheel drive in Manhattan? “Well, you know, sometime[s] I go out, and I go—” You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that this is disconnected. This is nothing to do with what the real reason is for people to do what they do. So there are many limits in traditional market research.
Rapille argues that for communication to succeed it has to speak to someone’s inner reptile. “We’re cheaper” doesn’t connect with people in a lasting way. You have to go deeper than that. Plus, when you offer a deeper connection, it’s harder for someone else to come along and copy your success.
It’s absolutely crucial for anybody in communication…to understand what I call the reptilian hot button. If you don’t have a reptilian hot button, then you have to deal with the cortex; you have to work on price issues and stuff like that.
In the kind of communication I’m developing and using, with 50 of the Fortune 100 companies who are my clients, almost full time, it is not enough to give a cortex message. “Buy my product because it’s 10 percent cheaper”: That’s cortex. Well, if the other is 15 percent cheaper, I move to the others. You don’t buy loyalty with percentages. That is key. It’s not a question of numbers; it’s the first reptilian reaction…
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.
Examples of products that are on code after the jump.
The PT Cruiser is a reptilian product…
The PT Cruiser is a car [that] when people see it, they say, “Wow, I want it.” Some people hate it; we don’t care. There is enough people that say, “Wow, I want it,” to make a big success. And then when we tested that, and we say, “How much will you pay for this kind of car?,” people say, “Oh, we’ll pay $15,000 or $35,000.” You know that when you have a product where people say $15,000 or $35,000, the price is irrelevant.
What is it that make[s] the PT Cruiser a reptilian car? First, the car has a strong identity. What people told us is that “We’re tired of these cars that have no identity. I have good quality, good gas mileage, good everything else, but when I see the car from a distance, I have to wait till the car gets close to know what it is, and I have to read the name.” When you go to see your mother, she doesn’t need to read your name to know who you are, you see? We want this reptilian connection. And so this notion of identity, absolutely key, was very reptilian for a car.
Nextel and Hummer…
The Nextel campaign, “I do, therefore I am.” Right, bingo. This is not “I think, therefore I am.” And the campaign for the Hummer—the Hummer is a car with a strong identity. It’s a car in a uniform. I told them, put four stars on the shoulder of the Hummer, you will sell better. If you look at the campaign, brilliant. I have no credit for it, just so you know, but brilliant. They say, “You give us the money, we give you the car, nobody gets hurt.” I love it! It’s like the mafia speaking to you. For women, they say it’s a new way to scare men. Wow. And women love the Hummer. They’re not telling you, “Buy a Hummer because you get better gas mileage.” You don’t. This is cortex things. They address your reptilian brain.
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.
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.
As for who gets it wrong, Rapaille thinks the airline industry has a lot to learn.
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.