The Secrets to the Universe

An analysis of Dr. Clotaire Rapaille's The Culture Code

Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, author of The Culture Code began as a psychoanalyst in Paris. He was studying the connection between learning and emotion, specifically in children with autism. In his research, the combination of an experience and its connecting emotion is what he calls an imprint. Societal imprints are incredibly important because they form to create culture codes, the basis of this book. Dr. Rapaille transitioned from the study of imprints in his patients to brands when he was hired by Nestle. He hoped to use his study of imprints to develop the cultural code that would help Nestle sell instant coffee to the Japanese. Nestle was one of many companies he helped better understand and appeal to audiences.

Throughout the book, Dr. Rapaille defines American codes for different things such as money, sex, food, work, and more. By defining the codes, brands who sell these products are able to play into the root emotions people associate with these things. He refers to examples of business models or ads as “on” or “off” code. To be most successful, businesses need to be “on code” and Dr. Rapaille and his research help them do that. 

What I found most fascinating about the book and what led me to select it in the first place were the comparisons of codes in America versus other countries. Clotaire is originally from France so he frequently compared codes in France to those in the United States. The different ways we treat things and what we hold of value is so fascinating to me and what I want to understand most as I prepare to enter the creative field. Americans are generally known for being locked in their own selfish world so I try to take every opportunity I can to better understand those who are different from me. This book definitely helped with that, and it’s one I’d undoubtedly recommend to anyone but specifically people who expect to work internationally. 

Everything about this book caught me off guard with its accuracy. For example, Dr. Rapaille defined the American culture code for alcohol, “GUN.” His reason for this is it’s something we play with, take risks with, makes us bolder, and something we fear might go off and cause problems. Where the French treat alcohol as something to enhance the flavor of food, Americans are raised to fear alcohol. Alcohol makes us out of control. We’re the only culture that “goes out to get drunk” instead of “going to a party,” “going to a nightclub,” or “spending an evening with friends.” Seeing this truth written down so simply with physical brand examples was mind-boggling. 

Strategy is all about getting to the root of what people feel and what they desire most. The Culture Code broke this down in the simplest possible terms. Reading this book felt like understanding the secrets to the universe. It also felt like a weapon. Good strategy is exactly that. By understanding people’s deepest desires and exploiting them, brands seduce customers into buying their products. Buyers don’t realize why they’re so compelled to make these purchases because they have no idea how predictable they truly are. That in itself is Dr. Rapaille’s point. His codes encompass whole cultures, and with a few exceptions, they hit home for everyone in that culture. 

Reading The Culture Code proved what I already knew, branding is not universal. The way people are raised, their values, and what they believe, impact what advertising they will be responsive to. The breakdown of these codes and the realization of how different cultures truly are is what made this book so valuable. I just wish this was something more people understand. With that said, with all the power I possess, I hereby declare The Culture Code required reading for all Americans. 

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