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*A Book Review*

The Culture Code

By Clotaire Rapaille

by Michael C. Gray

January 6, 2010

Can advertising fail because it doesn't "blend" with the viewer's concept of reality?

Can advertising be stunningly successful because it harmonizes with the viewer's view of the world?

The answers to both of these questions is, "Yes!"

If you're like me, at least half the time you wonder what the advertiser is trying to accomplish with its ad. We may be offended. They certainly can't be trying to sell something.

Long ago, Robert Collier wrote that the successful writer of advertising tries to take part in a conversation that is already happening in the reader's mind.

Clotaire Rapialle is a cultural anthropologist who has performed studies of the cultures of several countries as an aid to market research of some of America's leading companies. He has discovered striking differences in attitudes, beliefs and cultural associations in residents of the United States and other countries.

In The Culture Code, Rapaille shares his methodology and his findings, which are one word representations for certain items that he calls "Codes."

The methodology is to interview groups of people for an hour role playing, "I am a visitor from another planet who has never encountered this item before. Help me to understand it." A second hour was devoted to using scissors and magazines to make collages about the item. Once the subjects were "talked out" and relaxed, the third hour was devoted to have the subjects lie down and tell about their earliest memories and most striking memories about the item in question. That's when the most profound information was revealed.

For example, in the 1990's the Jeep Wrangler wasn't doing well in the American market. It was being promoted as an SUV. Rapaille discovered the American Culture Code for a Jeep is "HORSE." The Wrangler was re-styled to have round headlights (like a horse's eyes) and the car was portrayed in advertising as a horse, scaling treacherous terrain for the driver to save a pet dog, then heading off into the sunset. The new campaign was a smashing success.

Attitudes towards quality are quite different in the United States compared to Japan. In Japan, quality means "PERFECTION." In the United States, quality means, "IT WORKS. " More importantly, the Culture Code for perfection in the United States is "DEATH"! Americans have an internal fear of "getting it right the first time." Our American archetype is to learn from our initial mistakes and do things better the second and third times.

The Culture Code is a fascinating look at ourselves, and should be required reading for anyone involved in marketing.

Buy it on Amazon: The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do.

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The Culture Code, by Clotaire Rapaille, a cultural anthropologist, explains how important it is to understand how each culture you're selling to views your product.


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Michael Gray, CPA
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