What Made American Audiences Cry over a Coffee Ad?
An Interview with Dr. Clotaire Rapaille on the Culture Code
Dr. G Clotaire Rapaille is a cultural anthropologist and founder of Archetype Discoveries Worldwide. He is best known for writing the New York Times bestseller The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do. QRCA member Kay Correy Aubrey interviewed Dr. Rapaille for our VIEWS magazine. The first part of the interview appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of VIEWS.
Dr. Rapaille explains that in humans, our reptilian brain always wins. “The reptilian (brain) is about basic survival, basic instinct. It’s short-term. It’s pain and pleasure. It’s so strong.”
That deeply embedded, instinctive feeling is what the Culture Code is all about. “There is no learning about anything without emotion,” Dr. Rapaille says. “The more intense the emotion, the stronger the imprint…. When you learn a word, you learn more than the word — the whole culture goes with it. It’s a package. You get so much with a word.”
Using this as a starting point, Dr. Rapaille and his associates take groups of people from a particular culture to do imprinting sessions. Going through that process with Americans in a project for Folgers coffee, the team discovered that Americans imprint on the aroma of coffee. “And what we said at the time is that Folgers should own the aroma, everything. And then we designed communication around aroma.”
In the resulting ad, a young soldier returns home from the military and makes coffee for his sleeping mother. She smells the coffee, realizes what it means, and rushes down the stairs to hug her son. “When we tested the commercial people were crying,” Dr. Rapaille says. “It’s not just coffee. It’s reactivating the first imprint of something that is so emotionally positive and associated with all the reference systems. So we discover these dimensions that are so powerful, but usually unconscious.”