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The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People around the World Live and Buy as They Do

The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People around the World Live and Buy as They Do

3.2 14
by Clotaire Rapaille

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Why are people around the world so very different? What makes us live, buy, even love as we do? The answers are in the codes.

In The Culture Code, internationally revered cultural anthropologist and marketing expert Clotaire Rapaille reveals for the first time the techniques he has used to improve profitability and practices for dozens of Fortune 100


Why are people around the world so very different? What makes us live, buy, even love as we do? The answers are in the codes.

In The Culture Code, internationally revered cultural anthropologist and marketing expert Clotaire Rapaille reveals for the first time the techniques he has used to improve profitability and practices for dozens of Fortune 100 companies. His groundbreaking revelations shed light not just on business but on the way every human being acts and lives around the world.

Rapaille’s breakthrough notion is that we acquire a silent system of codes as we grow up within our culture. These codes—the Culture Code—are what make us American, or German, or French, and they invisibly shape how we behave in our personal lives, even when we are completely unaware of our motives. What’s more, we can learn to crack the codes that guide our actions and achieve new understanding of why we do the things we do.

Rapaille has used the Culture Code to help Chrysler build the PT Cruiser—the most successful American car launch in recent memory. He has used it to help Procter & Gamble design its advertising campaign for Folger’s coffee – one of the longest lasting and most successful campaigns in the annals of advertising. He has used it to help companies as diverse as GE, AT&T, Boeing, Honda, Kellogg, and L’Oréal improve their bottom line at home and overseas. And now, in The Culture Code, he uses it to reveal why Americans act distinctly like Americans, and what makes us different from the world around us.

In The Culture Code, Dr. Rapaille decodes two dozen of our most fundamental archetypes—ranging from sex to money to health to America itself—to give us “a new set of glasses” with which to view our actions and motivations. Why are we so often disillusioned by love? Why is fat a solution rather than a problem? Why do we reject the notion of perfection? Why is fast food in our lives to stay? The answers are in the Codes.

Understanding the Codes gives us unprecedented freedom over our lives. It lets us do business in dramatically new ways. And it finally explains why people around the world really are different, and reveals the hidden clues to understanding us all.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
French-born marketing consultant and psychoanalyst Rapaille takes a truism-different cultures are, well, different-and expands it by explaining how a nation's history and cultural myths are psychological templates to which its citizens respond unconsciously. Fair enough, but after that, it's all downhill. Rapaille intends his theory of culture codes to help us understand "why people do what they do," but the "fundamental archetypes" he offers are just trumped-up stereotypes. He often supports jarring pronouncements ("The Culture Code for perfection in America is DEATH") with preposterous generalizations and overstatements, e.g., Japanese men "seem utterly incapable of courtship or wooing a woman." Writing with the na vet of someone who has learned about the world only through Hollywood films, he seems unaware that every person living within a nation's borders doesn't necessarily share the same cultural biases and references. Rapaille's successful consulting career is evidence that he's more convincing in the boardroom than he is on the page. Amid the overheated prose and dubious factoids, it's easy to overlook the book's scattered marketing proposals and employee-management tips. (June 6) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Why do people behave the way they do? Transplanted French-born psychiatrist and popular marketing consultant Rapaille offers readers a new paradigm for contemplating human activity. From his research on the impact of emotion on learning, Rapaille theorizes that human behavior and decision making are based in large part on cultural archetypes, or "Culture Codes," the unconscious meanings people ascribe to concepts such as beauty, work, and food, based on the culture in which they were raised. Building on this notion of cultural archetypes, Rapaille analyzes two dozen aspects of American society, defining culture codes for everything from health to shopping to seduction, and contrasting these codes with those of other cultures. This book has been compared with Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, though Rapaille's prose lacks the style that made Blink a pleasure to read. Still, the comparisons between American codes and the codes of other cultures are entertaining, and businesses may well benefit from the implications his conclusions have for marketing their products. Recommended for corporate and public libraries.-Elizabeth L. Winter, Georgia State Univ. Lib., Atlanta Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The application of psychology and cultural anthropology to the world of marketing produces some pat answers. Rapaille, a French psychologist who has become an American citizen and is a marketing consultant to major U.S. corporations, asserts that in addition to the Freudian individual unconscious and the Jungian collective unconscious, there is a third cultural unconscious that guides us. "Culture Code" is his term for the unconscious meaning that people raised in a given culture give to objects, persons, places, actions and relationships. He describes, and illustrates with numerous quotations, the technique he uses with focus groups to get past what people say to what they really feel, a process that he calls a "discovery." By uncovering the true meanings of, say, cheese, or car, or dinner, he is able to advise companies on how best to market their products in a particular country. For example, learning from Rapaille that the Culture Code for Jeep in the United States is Horse, while in France and Germany it is Liberator, led Chrysler to formulate different advertising campaigns. Rapaille follows this example with a host of others demonstrating the importance of connecting with the Culture Code when launching a product in Europe or Japan. Presumably marketing managers profit from knowing that in the United States the Culture Code for food is Fuel, for sex it is Violence and for love it is False Expectation. Rapaille then extends his analysis of Culture Codes past marketing to domestic politics and foreign relations. Our Culture Code for the presidency, he reports, is Moses, i.e., a rebellious leader with a strong vision and the will to get his people out of trouble. Our Culture Code forAmerica is Dream; however, to the Germans, our country is John Wayne; to the English it is Unashamedly Abundant; and to the French it is Space Traveler. Just how this knowledge can be used to win an election or improve international relations is not entirely clear. Some amusing anecdotes about national differences, but on the whole way too simplistic.
From the Publisher
“This book is just plain astonishing! Filled with profound insights and ideas that have enormous consequences for today’s organizations. If you want to understand customers, Constituencies, and crowds, this book is required reading.”

--Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business, University of Southern California and author of On Becoming a Leader

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
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6.29(w) x 9.52(h) x 0.81(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Culture Code

By Clotaire Rapaille

Random House

Clotaire Rapaille
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0767920562

Chapter One

From the Introduction to The Culture Code

The Culture Code 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. The American experience with Jeeps is very different from the French and German experience because our cultures evolved differently (we have strong cultural memories of the open frontier; the French and Germans have strong cultural memories of occupation and war). Therefore, the Codes -- the meaning we give to the Jeep at an unconscious level -- are different as well. The reasons for this are numerous (and I will describe them in the next chapter), but it all comes down to the worlds in which we grew up. It is obvious to everyone that cultures are different from one another. What most people don't realize, however, is that these differences actually lead to our processing the same information in different ways.

My journey toward the discovery of cultural codes began in the early 1970's. I was a psychoanalyst in Paris at the time, and my clinical work brought me to the research of the great scientist Henri Laborit, who drew a clear connection between learning and emotion, showing that without the latter the former was impossible. The stronger the emotion, the more clearly an experience is learned. Think of a child told by his parents to avoid a hot pan on a stove. This concept is abstract to the child until he reaches out, touches the pan, and it burns him. In this intensely emotional moment of pain, the child learns what "hot" and "burn" means and is very unlikely ever to forget it.

The combination of the experience and its accompanying emotion create something known widely (and coined as such by Konrad Lorenz) as an imprint. Once an imprint occurs, it strongly conditions our thought processes and shapes our future actions. Each imprint helps make us more of who we are. The combination of these imprints defines us.

One of my most memorable personal imprints came when I was a young boy. I grew up in France, and when I was about four years old, my family received an invitation to a wedding. I'd never been to one before and I had no idea what to expect. What I encountered was remarkable. French weddings are unlike weddings in any other culture I know. The event went on for two days, nearly all of which was spent around a large communal table. People stood at the table to offer toasts. They stood on the table to sing songs. They slept under the table and (as I later learned) even seduced one another under the table. Food was always available. People drank le trou Normand, a glass of Calvados that allowed them to make room for more food. Others simply went to the bathroom to vomit so they could eat more. It was an amazing thing to see as a child and it left a permanent imprint on me. Forever more, I would always associate weddings with gustatory excess. In fact, the first time I went to a wedding in America, I was taken aback by how sedate it was in comparison. Recently, when I remarried, my wife (who also grew up in France) and I held the kind of multi-day feast that meant "wedding" to both of us.

Every imprint influences us on an unconscious level. When the work of Laborit crystallized this for me, I began to incorporate what I learned from him into my clinical work in Paris, most of which was being done with autistic children (in fact, Laborit led me to the theory that autistic children do not learn effectively because they lack the emotion to do so). The subject of imprinting also formed the foundation of the lectures I gave during this time. After one particular lecture at Geneva University, the father of a student approached me.

"Dr. Rapaille, I might have a client for you," he said.

Always intrigued at the possibilities offered by another case, I nodded with interest. "An autistic child?"

"No," he said, smiling, "Nestle."

At the time, focused on clinical and scholarly work, I barely understood what the word "marketing" meant. I therefore couldn't possibly imagine what use I would be to a corporation. "Nestle? What can I do for them?"

"We are trying to sell instant coffee in Japan, but we aren't having as much success as we would like. Your work on imprints might be very helpful to us."

We continued to talk and the man made me an extremely attractive offer. Not only were the financial terms considerable, but there was something promising about a project like this. Unlike my work with autistic children, where progress was painfully slow, this offer was a chance to quickly test theories I had developed about imprinting and the unconscious mind. It was an opportunity too good to pass up. I took a sabbatical and went off on my new assignment.

My first meeting with Nestle executives and their Japanese advertising agency was very instructive. Their strategy, which today seems absurdly wrong but wasn't as clear-cut in the '70s, was to try to convince Japanese consumers to switch from tea to coffee. Having spent some time in Japan previously, I knew that tea meant a great deal to this culture, but I had no sense of what emotions they attached to coffee. I decided to gather several groups of people together to discover how they imprinted the beverage. I believed there was a message there that could open a door for Nestle.

I structured a three-hour session with each of the groups. In the first hour, I took on the persona of a visitor from another planet, someone who had never seen coffee before and had no idea how one "used" it. I asked for help understanding the product, believing their descriptions would give me insight into what they thought of it.

In the next hour, I had them sit on the floor like elementary school children and use scissors and a pile of magazines to make a collage of words about coffee. The goal here was to get them to tell me stories with these words that would offer me further clues.

In the third hour, I had participants lie on the floor with pillows. There was some hesitation among members of every group, but I convinced them I wasn't entirely out of my mind. I put on soothing music and asked the participants to relax. What I was doing was calming their active brain waves, getting them to that tranquil point just before sleep. When they reached this state, I took them on a journey back from their adulthood, past their teenage years, to a time when they were very young. Once they arrived, I asked them to think again about coffee and to recall their earliest memory of it, the first time they consciously experienced it and, if it was different, their most significant memory of it.

I designed this process to bring participants back to their first imprint of coffee and the emotion attached to it. In most cases, though, the journey led nowhere. What this signified for Nestle was very clear. 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.

Under these circumstances, Nestle's strategy of getting these consumers to switch from tea to coffee could only fail. Coffee could not compete with tea in the Japanese culture if it had such weak emotional resonance. Instead, if Nestle was going to have any success in this market at all, they needed to start at the beginning. They needed to give the product meaning in this culture. They needed to create an imprint for coffee for the Japanese.

Armed with this information, Nestle devised a new strategy. Rather than selling instant coffee to a country dedicated to tea, they created desserts for children infused with the flavor of coffee but without the caffeine. The younger generation embraced these desserts. Their first imprint of coffee was a very positive one, one they would carry throughout their lives. Through this, Nestle gained a meaningful foothold in the Japanese market. Understanding the process of imprinting -- and how it related directly to Nestle's marketing efforts -- unlocked a door to the Japanese culture for them and turned around a floundering business venture.

It did something much more important for me, however. The realization that there was no significant imprint for coffee in Japan underscored for me that early imprinting has a tremendous impact on why people do what they do. In addition, the fact that the Japanese did not have a strong imprint for coffee while the Swiss (Nestle is a Swiss company) obviously did made it clear that imprints vary from culture to culture. If I could get to the source of these imprints -- if I could somehow "decode" elements of culture to discover the emotions and meanings attached to them -- I would learn a great deal about human behavior and how it varies across the planet. This set me on the course of my life's work. I went off in search of the codes hidden within the unconscious of every culture.

From Chapter Two:
The Growing Pains of an
Adolescent Culture: The Codes for Love, Seduction and Sex

As you will learn throughout this book, the American culture exhibits many of the traits consistent with adolescence: intense focus on "the now," dramatic mood swings, constant need for exploration and challenge to authority, a fascination with extremes, openness to change and reinvention, and a strong belief that mistakes warrant second chances. As Americans, we feel we know more than our elders do (for instance, we rarely consult France, Germany, Russia, or England on our foreign policy), that their answers are out of date (we pay little heed to the opinions of these cultures when it comes to global matters), and that we must reject their lessons and re-make the world (few of us -- including many of our leaders -- are students of world history, choosing to make our own mistakes rather than learning from the mistakes these other cultures have already made).

Like all adolescents, we are preoccupied with love, seduction, and sex. We are not unique in this regard. People in many cultures throughout the world are fascinated with these things -- perhaps more so than anything else. After all, as human beings, we need sex at the very least to ensure the continuation of our species. The unconscious attitudes we Americans hold about these matters, however, are unique and very much related to our cultural adolescence.

Adolescence is a time of confusion and contradictions. New discoveries are promising one day and disappointing the next. Dreams sprout, flower, and wilt as quickly as daffodils in the spring. Certainties become uncertainties in the blink of an eye. This is as true with adolescent cultures as it is with adolescent children and never is it clearer than in the Codes revealed in this chapter.

Some of you will find the following pages disturbing. Some of you will insist that you don't see yourself in these Codes in any way. (You might even be right about that. Of course, every individual is different, as he or she is also governed by his or her individual unconscious.) The revelation of the following Codes might be upsetting to you, but please remember that Codes are value-neutral. The Codes themselves do not pass judgment on a particular culture. The American Codes simply reflect our cultural adolescence. This is very good and empowering in many cases, as you will see in subsequent chapters, and explains why we are the best in the world at many things and why we have been such innovators and reformers.

If one were to compile a list of things at which the American culture excels, however, love, seduction, and sex would not be on that list. You know this already. After all, when we consider someone a great ladies' man, we might call him a "Don Juan" or a "Casanova." We will never, however, call him a "Joe Smith." The function of the new set of glasses provided by the Culture Code is to show us why we do the things we do:

are American women so concerned with finding "Mr. Right?"

does the FCC frown on (and even prosecute) televising a woman breastfeeding, but allow the exhibition of fictionalized bloodbaths during network Prime Time?

are American women offended when construction workers whistle at them in New York but flattered when a man does the same in Milan?

The answers are in the Codes.

What's love got to do with it?

I held imprinting sessions all over the country searching for the Code for love. During these sessions, I asked participants to focus on the word "love" without specifying whether I meant romantic love, parental love, sibling love, love of country, love of pets, or even love of a sports team. When I guided participants back to their first imprint though, a vast majority of them went to the same place.

"My first experience with the word love, or related to love, was when I was four or five. In the kitchen, mother was preparing a cake, my favorite cake, a cheesecake. The smell was the smell of love. She opened the oven and I told her, 'I love you!' She closed the oven, came to give me a kiss, and told me, 'I love you, too.' Then she gave me a big portion of the cake and I knew she really meant it when she said, 'I love you'."
- 40-year-old man

"Mother loved us so much, she cooked all Thanksgiving day. She was so happy to see her family all together again, around the table, eating...so much love around the table, so much food. We could not stop eating."
- 36-year-old woman

"When you are little, parents are there to care for and protect you. You have no care or worries. If something bad happens, your family is there for you. I miss this protection."
- 58-year-old woman

"The best way to describe my parents' room is a nest. The carpet was light brown and the walls were blue. The bed was in the center of the room and had a huge white comforter. It was on this bed that I sat with my mother as a child and asked her about the world."
- 21-year-old man

"I remember lying in my mother's lap in my early years. I remember talking with my mother and sharing caresses."
- 65-year-old man

Consistently, participants related their first experience of love to their mother's care -- feeding them, holding them, making them feel safe. This is entirely understandable.


Excerpted from The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dr. CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE is the chairman of Archetype Discoveries Worldwide and has used this decoding approach for thirty years. He is the personal adviser to ten high-ranking CEOs and is kept on retainer by fifty Fortune 100 companies. He has been profiled in many national media outlets, including 60 Minutes II and on the front page of the New York Times Sunday Styles section. He lives in Tuxedo Park, New York.

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The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People around the World Live and Buy as They Do 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
The core idea of this pleasant, accessible book is easy to grasp: Culturally specific codes shape people's understandings, behaviors and emotional responses. French-born psychoanalyst and marketing maven Clotaire Rapaille brings a useful perspective shaped by his experiences as a U.S. immigrant to his discussion of what he calls "Culture Codes." His methods for tapping into these codes are straightforward. However, some of his conclusions lead to fairly sweeping, general claims about overall national cultures. His explanations of coded cultural instincts and actions are still interesting, particularly when he delves specifically into American, French, English, German, Japanese and other societies. getAbstract suggests his book to those interested in cultural differences and those responsible for tailoring marketing concepts to reach specific national audiences around the world.
Nicole1027 More than 1 year ago
This was a pretty easy read, it wasn't difficult to understand, and I liked all the different stories Clotaire Rapaille included in his book. It was also interesting to see the difference between what people THINK they think, and what they actually, unconsciously think. This unconcscious thought leads us to "live and buy as [we] do." I had never heard of this concept before, so it was nice to get a new perspective on why people from all over the world make the decisions that they do. I have been to a few of the countries he mentioned, and when I thought about it, I agreed with most of the observations he made. It was a pretty good book overall, but I thought it got kind of repetitive near the end. It seemed liked Rapaille was trying to remind us how his "discovery sessions" work, when the reader already understood a while ago.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having marketed and sold in every region of the globe, I was naturally drawn to Clotaire Rapaille's 'The Culture Code.' Rapaille utlizes a one word 'code' which you could characterize as an 'emoticon descriptor' for a product or service, such as 'HORSE' for the the Jeep Wrangler, or 'DISAPPOINTMENT' for Love. He caught my interest up front with a top line description of the process behind his code labeling, but as the book progressed, never provided a road map as to the analysis behind the process except the end results surrounding vanity areas of health, beauty, sex, home, money and other emotional strings. But nothing regarding hard business or marketing factor analysis. The book read more as opinion found in a celebrity magazine, resembling a bastard child of 'US' and 'The Economist.' His premise is that we all look at the world differently due to our childhood driven, hard wired cultural experiences, causing stark differences between the emotional quotient of Europeans, Asians and Americans. At the end, the chapters were fairly repetitive recapping the first, and strongest, in the book.
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The author really has an ingenious way of interpreting how people relate certain emotions to products. This is extremely useful both as a Marketing student and as a consumer. It helps me u.derstand what happens when I shop and why I buy what I do.
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