Book Review: The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy As They Do

In his book, The Culture Code, author Clotaire Rapaille, explored in great detail his technique of taking what he calls, ‘imprints’, and using them to delve into the unconscious mind. Rapaille discussed how he designed a structured and reliable method of decoding ‘imprints’ (first, strongest, or most powerful memories) through what he termed ‘discovery sessions’. Rapaille took these imprints and the results of discovery sessions and formulated the ‘Culture Code’.

According to Rapaille: “The Culture Code is the unconscious meaning we apply to any given thing – a car, a type of food, a relationship or even a country – via the culture in which we are raised.” With this newfound ‘Culture Code’, Rapaille discovered the codes for beauty, health, work, money, home, youth and the list continues. Rapaille explained that these codes differ from culture to culture. The Culture Code is an in-depth analysis of numerous codes within the American culture, compared to codes of other cultures as well.

Rapaille began his work with imprinting as a psychoanalyst in Paris, where he worked with autistic children. His first client that he tested his imprint system on was Nestle. Nestle wanted to market their instant coffee in Japan, but had previously been unsuccessful in appealing to the Japanese public. In order to help Nestle solve their problems, Rapaille used his discovery session method. He grouped people together and held three-hour discovery sessions, where he got participants to make a collage about coffee, discuss what they thought about coffee and most importantly, reveal their very first imprint of coffee.

Based on his imprint work for Nestle, Rapaille found that Nestle had previously been marketing their coffee in all the wrong ways. According to Rapaille: “While the Japanese had an extremely strong emotional connection to tea (something I learned without asking in the first hour of the sessions), they had, at the most, a very superficial imprint of coffee. Most, in fact, had no imprint of coffee at all.” Rapaille helped Nestle to discover how the Japanese unconsciously felt about coffee, which then helped to improve their marketing of the brand in Japan. From then on, Rapaille discovered more and more codes, which varied from culture to culture, and now currently helps many Fortune 100 companies to discover the codes for products that they are trying to market within a particular country or culture.

The Culture Code is extremely relevant in explaining how global businesses market their products and services to particular groups of consumers. Large corporations use Rapaille’s methods because they reveal hidden meanings about how consumers feel about not only products, but also overarching themes (such as love, work, beauty, health, etc.). This book has the ability to teach businesses, public relations practitioners and consumers themselves, that the way today’s global branding is received by the public is greatly affected by particular cultures’ views and values. If marketers and public relations practitioners build their campaigns and advertisements, as Rapaille describes as, ‘on code’, within their targeted demographic and culture, they are sure to be more effective, than if they use only one method of marketing across many countries.

Brand equity is in the minds of every marketer and public relations practitioner when they are working on a particular campaign. In order to build brand equity and have a particular brand or product resonate positively in consumers’ minds, than the structures and methods surrounding the actual campaign need to be consistent with the codes in the targeted culture or country.

We live in a vast consumer culture, where products and brands are constantly being advertised to us. However, sometimes these brands are being promoted in all the wrong ways.  It interesting to think about what Rapaille’s codes and imprints are telling us. For example, Rapaille discusses how America is an ‘adolescent culture’ and its code for food is ‘fuel’, as when it comes to food, Americans’ mission is to fill up as fast as possible. This is why the way the fast-food industry markets food is very much ‘on code’.

According to Rapaille: “Fast-food restaurants provide us with a quick fill-up. We don’t need to wait for our meals and, refueled, we can go on to our other tasks. This appeals to our need for movement as well as our adolescent desire to have everything now.” In contrast, Rapaille discusses how the French see food as a slow process and a source of pleasure. Therefore, marketing and public relations campaigns for food and restaurants in America and for food and restaurants in France would have to be quite different in order to appeal to the intended publics.

Through The Culture Code, the reasons as to why certain products and brands are received better in particular countries becomes more evident. By taking one product and basing its marketing and public relations campaign on the ‘Culture Code’ of an individual country or culture, brand loyalty and brand personality all have a greater potential to be received in a more positive way, which then can lead to increased brand equity and successful marketing campaigns for all global businesses.










About Jessica Summers

My name is Jessica Summers. I graduated as valedictorian from Marymount Manhattan College in 2012 with a B.A. in Communications and minors in Journalism and Political Science. During college, I spent a summer abroad studying at Oxford University and also held internships at CNN International, CNBC Business News, and WABC-TV, among other news organizations and media outlets. I am currently a graduate student at New York University’s Business and Economic Reporting program. I am an aspiring broadcast journalist, especially interested in covering the world of business and finance.
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