And so I was lecturing at Geneva University, and one of my students asked his father to come to my lecture. And at the end of the lecture the father told me, "You know, doctor, I have a client for you." And I said, "Is it a little boy, little girl, doesn't speak?" [He said], "No, no, this is Nestlé." And I was very surprised. I say: "Nestlé? What can I do for Nestlé?" "Well, we try to sell instant coffee to the Japanese, and obviously we might have the wrong code, because we're not very successful." Today, more than 30 years later, it sounds obvious, but at the time they were trying to get Japanese people to switch from tea to coffee. And of course when you know that there's a very strong imprint of tea in Japan -- it's almost a religious dimension there -- you cannot really have a strategy to get them switch from tea to coffee.
So I took a sabbatical, went to Japan, and discovered the code for coffee in Japan, shared that to the company, and they started implementing it immediately. My frustration working with autistic children was, I never got much results. It's just, unfortunately, very hard work, but you don't really get results. And I was becoming very frustrated that my American side -- I was already American, you know, in my mind -- wanted results. Then I went to Japan, worked with Nestlé, and [a] few months later, bang, got results. I say: "Wow, results already? Whoa." I never went back to psychiatry. I started my first company in Japan, then in Switzerland, in France and in America -- that's it.
What did your work for Nestlé look like?
It was really to tell them, for example, that the Japanese don't have a first imprint of coffee. What first imprint they have is tea. And so when you go into this category, in what we call taxonomy, mental taxonomy, it's like a mental category they have, and you cannot compete with this category. So you have to create the category. And so we started, for example, with a dessert for children with a taste of coffee. We created an imprint of the taste of coffee. And then we acknowledge the Japanese want to do one thing at a time, and the Swiss understood that very well. They start with this kind of a product. They start selling coffee, but through dessert, things that were sweet, get the people accustomed to the taste of coffee, and after that they followed the generations. And when they were teenagers they start selling coffee, and first there was coffee with milk at the beginning, and then they went to coffee, and now they have a big market for coffee in Japan.
Do these imprints have to happen as a child?
Well, yes. They don't have to, but if you don't have an imprint when you are a child, and if you get the first imprint later -- for example, I'm trying to speak English, but my first imprint of language was French, because I was born during the war in France. When I start learning English it was later. I was already also grown up, so I will never have the same imprints with English that I have with French. Most of the time, when children don't learn a foreign language before they are 7, they always have some kind of an accent. The brain is very available if you want at an early age to create this mental connection.
When we [are] born, we have the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain is there already. It's part of survival; it's breathing, eating, going to the bathroom. But then, in relationship with the mother, we develop the second brain, which is the limbic brain -- emotions -- and these emotions vary from one culture to another. In the relationship with your mother, you're going to imprint, make mental connection about what means love, what means mother, what means being fed, what means a home, what means all the things that are very basic for survival. [These] are transmitted by the mother to you, and you create this mental connection in the brain -- like a reference system, if you want, that you keep using. After a while, this system becomes unconscious. You do not even think about it. You know "Oh, this is a house; of course this is a house." Well, for a lot of people around the world, this is not a house. A house might be a tent or made of ice or whatever, but this is not their reference system. It might be different for others.
Then, after 7, we have in place the cortex. The cortex is the last part of the brain that we develop, and that's what we suppose to be "intelligent." We are scientists, you know -- numbers and stuff like that. Now, what is interesting is the cortex, we [are] kind of aware of that. We try to be intelligent, but the reptilian [part] we are not very much aware of it, and the limbic is more or less completely unconscious.
These levels are very different from one culture to another. Some cultures are very reptilian, which means very basic instinct. American culture is a very basic instinct: I want to be reached now; let's do it. [There's a] bias for action. Just now, [America is] very adolescent when other cultures are more cortex, very control, control, control. The German, the French are very controlled. They want the government to control everything, the state, the bureaucracy, the administration. The ideal life for a German person is when they just have to obey; the administration is in charge of everything and controls everything, and you don't have to worry about anything. We don't like that. We Americans, we like to have choices: My own life, I want to become whatever I am; whatever it is doesn't matter, but I want to become myself -- not something else, not what people tell me. So I'm not telling you one culture is good or bad, but just different.
What are codes?
Once you understand the code, you understand why people do what they do. For example, the code for the French -- once you understand the code, you may understand why [French president Jacques] Chirac reacted this way to Bush, because for the French, the code is "to think." That's it: to think. "I think, therefore I am" -- not "I do," "I think." The French believe [that they are] the only thinkers of the world and that they think for the rest of the world. They believe that Americans never think; they just do things without knowing why. And so in this situation, where Bush say[s], "Let's do it," the French say, "No, wait, think; we need to think."
Now, what you have to understand about the French culture is "to think" is enough. You don't need to do anything with your thinking. The French philosopher would say, "I think, therefore I am," where in America you have Nextel, this campaign, fantastic, "I do, therefore I am," not "I think." I think they're right on target with the American code.
What's wrong with traditional market research?
They are too cortex, which means that they think too much, and then they ask people to think and to tell them what they think. Now, my experience is that most of the time, people have no idea why they're doing what they're doing. They have no idea, so they're going to try to make up something that makes sense. Why do you need a Hummer to go shopping? "Well, you see, because in case there is a snowstorm." No. Why [do] you buy four wheel drive? "Well, you know, in case I need to go off-road." Well, you live in Manhattan; why do you need four wheel drive in Manhattan? "Well, you know, sometime[s] I go out, and I go -- " You don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand that this is disconnected. This is nothing to do with what the real reason is for people to do what they do. So there are many limits in traditional market research.
I will not criticize too much marketing research. I would say some people are good, like everywhere. Some people are not that good. But in terms of the way they approach people's behavior, I think you need to go beyond words, and my training with autistic children is that I had to understand what these kids were trying to tell me with no words. So that's part of my training.
How can I decode this kind of behavior which is not a word? My theory is very simple: The reptilian always wins. I don't care what you're going to tell me intellectually. I don't care. Give me the reptilian. Why? Because the reptilian always wins.
One example I can give you about reptilian: mothers. I've done a lot of work for people that market products to mothers, right? Women in America have a different program that starts kicking in when they become mothers. When a woman becomes a mother, the reptilians take over. Suddenly she is a mother first. The husband is second; the baby is first. Suddenly she feels at the gut level that she has to be permanently aware, in charge, protecting this child, for the child to stay alive. And this is like a divine mission, so this has become a very strong priority which is very reptilian. The code for mothers, for me, is total paranoia. Total paranoia. Mothers know that you can't stop watching, being careful, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They feel the danger before anybody else. Now, sometime[s] they behave in a very irrational way, so if you try to ask them, "Tell me how you behave in this situation," and so on, well, they're going to tell you something that makes sense. But if you are really right there when something happens, you see suddenly the reptilians take over -- bingo. And that what is interesting.
How do CEOs recognize or understand this phenomena?
It's absolutely crucial for anybody in communication -- and that could be journalists, TV, media, all of it, or marketing people -- if you want to appeal to people, it's absolutely crucial to understand what I call the reptilian hot button. If you don't have a reptilian hot button, then you have to deal with the cortex; you have to work on price issues and stuff like that.
Example: You didn't eat for two weeks, right, and suddenly there is some food here. Are you going to negotiate the price? Your reptilian brain says, "I need to eat, I need to eat," so you don't negotiate the price. The reptilian always wins. You cannot impose something that goes against people's reptilian.
In the kind of communication I'm developing and using, with 50 of the Fortune 100 companies who are my clients, almost full time, it is not enough to give a cortex message. "Buy my product because it's 10 percent cheaper": That's cortex. Well, if the other is 15 percent cheaper, I move to the others. You don't buy loyalty with percentages. That is key. It's not a question of numbers; it's the first reptilian reaction.
I want to give you an example. When I start[ed] working with Chrysler, they told me: "We have done all the research. We have all the questionnaires and focus groups and everything, and we know Americans don't want cars anymore. They want trucks; they want big SUVs; they want minivans. They don't want cars." And I told them, "I think that maybe you are making a mistake here, because you listen to what people say; I don't." So I suggested to Chrysler: "Let's do some kind of work the way I do this. Let's try to break the code, understand what is the code. What I believe is they are not buying cars because you're not delivering the reptilian car they want, but if you find out the reptilian code for car and you make a car, you create a car like that, you're going to sell it."
So we did this kind of work. We went back to the first imprint. The result is the PT Cruiser. The PT Cruiser is a car [that] when people see it, they say, "Wow, I want it." Some people hate it; we don't care. There is enough people that say, "Wow, I want it," to make a big success. And then when we tested that, and we say, "How much will you pay for this kind of car?," people say, "Oh, we'll pay $15,000 or $35,000." You know that when you have a product where people say $15,000 or $35,000, the price is irrelevant.
What is it that make[s] the PT Cruiser a reptilian car? First, the car has a strong identity. What people told us is that "We're tired of these cars that have no identity. I have good quality, good gas mileage, good everything else, but when I see the car from a distance, I have to wait till the car gets close to know what it is, and I have to read the name." When you go to see your mother, she doesn't need to read your name to know who you are, you see? We want this reptilian connection. And so this notion of identity, absolutely key, was very reptilian for a car.
Are marketing people muddling their messages?
Some people are getting there now. Some people understand the power of the reptilian in a very gutsy way. They don't do all the analysis of the three brains, but [they get it]. For example, the Nextel campaign, "I do, therefore I am." Right, bingo. This is not "I think, therefore I am." And the campaign for the Hummer -- the Hummer is a car with a strong identity. It's a car in a uniform. I told them, put four stars on the shoulder of the Hummer, you will sell better. If you look at the campaign, brilliant. I have no credit for it, just so you know, but brilliant. They say, "You give us the money, we give you the car, nobody gets hurt." I love it! It's like the mafia speaking to you. For women, they say it's a new way to scare men. Wow. And women love the Hummer. They're not telling you, "Buy a Hummer because you get better gas mileage." You don't. This is cortex things. They address your reptilian brain.
They appeal to the logic of emotion.
Right. This is the connection between the limbic and the reptilian, what I call the logic of emotion, which is how the emotions deal with the urges, the instincts, the needs we have. One example I can think [of] is seduction. I was lucky to study seduction in eight cultures for L'Oréal. I couldn't believe I was paid to do that. It was fantastic.
Now, seduction is like there are numbers on the doors, and you have to punch the numbers to open the doors. Even if you know the numbers, if you don't know the proper order of these numbers, you're not going to open the door. Well, that's seduction. There are things that you can do, and the code is different from one culture to another. You know, if you start with A and A is fine, you can go to B and B is fine; you can go to C, C is fine. But in another culture, if you start with A, they think you're dumb. You can start directly with D, but then you have to go to A. So [it's] the order of things, what can you do, and that can be as simple as when can you hold the hand of the girl or when can the girl tell you, "Come pick me up," or things that people are supposed to say or not to do.
There is an order, and it's different in Japan; it's different in France; it's different in America; it's different in South America. That's what you have to understand. If you try to sell a product or service, not understanding this proper order, this logic of emotion, you turn people off. They say, "These people are ridiculous." And I have to say that many, many American companies make these kind of mistakes, because they don't understand. They think that oh, our logic of emotions should be universal; everybody should feel this way. And they don't.
So how do you discover these reptilian codes, if they are unconscious?
I believe that people have unspoken needs. They're not even aware of these needs, but they have these needs which come from the reptilian, but they're not conscious needs. You cannot just ask them, "Tell me what is unconscious." I mean, this is ridiculous; they can't tell you. So you need to have a way. I say, "If you don't have the microscope, you don't discover the microbes."
In my work, I don't discover the code alone; I use my clients. We call that the core team. The clients are with me and together with the people that we want to understand. We go to the bathroom with them. We spend three hours with them, you know, 30 of them at the same time. It's not a focus group; we call it an imprinting session. And my clients are just like one of them. As long as they are American, born and raised in America, they qualify, too. And so they go to the bathroom with these people, and there is no nametag; they don't know who they are. And it's amazing what we discover most of the time.
What are the steps you take?
Because of the three brains -- the cortex, the limbic and the reptilian -- I've designed a session where we started with the cortex, because people want to show how intelligent they are, so [we] give them a chance. We call that a purge or washout session. We don't care what they say; we don't believe what they say. And usually they give us all the cliché. They tell us everything that we have told them already through advertising, communication, the media, the newspaper.
And then we have a break. They're usually very happy with themselves. They say, "Oh, we did a good job," and so on. And when they come back, now we're going to the limbic, to the emotions. I tell them: "You're going to tell me a little story like if I was a 5-year-old from another planet. I'm 5, which means I can only understand things that are very simple. I'm from another planet, which means I don't know anything about your planet, so you're free to tell me anything you want." They don't understand what they're doing anymore. Good, that's what I want. They get paid to do that, so they do it; they tell me little stories. The stories have to start with "Once upon a time." Suddenly they are into a mind-set that is completely different. They don't try to be logical or intelligent; they just try to please a 5-year-old from another planet, and they tell little stories.
At the end of the second hour, when we go to the break, and my clients go with them to the bathroom, they say: "This guy is crazy. What is he doing?"; "I thought I understood what we were doing -- now I don't understand anything"; "I mean, I get paid to do that?"; "Wow, what is he going to do with that stuff?" This is excellent; this is what I want. I want to disconnect the cortex. The cortex is control, control, control, try to be intelligent, so on. But when you don't know what I'm looking for, you can't really influence anything.
Then when they come back for the third hour, then there are no more chairs. "Uh-oh, what is going on here? How come no chairs?" I explain to them that I would like them to try to go back to the very first time that they experienced what we're trying to understand -- could be coffee, a car, an insurance, anything. So we want your first experience, and I would like you to try to go back to this very first experience, which is usually when you are a child. In order to do that, I want you to be in a mind-set a little bit like the one you had when you wake up in the morning. Why? Because when we wake up in the morning, the cortex brain is the last one to come to work. When he's not there yet, you still have access to a lot of things that happened in your unconscious during your sleep. But then when the cortex arrives, it cleans the place. If I recreate a situation that is very similar to the one you have when you wake up in the morning, you'll be surprised to see that things come back to your mind that you forgot, sometimes for 20, 30 years. That's what I'm explaining to these people. I say: "You know it's on a voluntary basis. If you don't want to do it, you don't have to do it. You get paid anyway." They sign a waiver at the beginning; they know what we're going to do.
One thing that is key here is that they know that this process is completely anonymous. They don't have to speak up. People share with us because at the end we give them a pad, a pen, and they write. They know it's anonymous; they don't have to put their name. Imagine that you're going to be invited to a focus group to speak for two hours with 12 strangers on the way you use toilet paper. I mean, that's not a very comfortable situation. When I worked on toilet paper with P&G [Procter & Gamble], they said, "Oh, we know there is no emotion with toilet paper." I say: "Well, I'm not so sure, because [if] you don't use a microscope, you cannot see the microbe. You don't get it because you don't have the right tools." But when we did this work on toilet paper, people, knowing that this is completely anonymous, going back to the first imprint and so on, wow, we discovered a lot of emotion. It was incredible how much emotion we got there. But that was completely disconnected [from] the traditional way to do market research.
You know, when we get this very first imprint, there is no need for interpretation. At a certain time, my clients and I do the analysis together. At a certain time, they go, "Wow -- oh, I knew it." The "wow" is when they discover the code. For the first time they get the code of coffee, [they] say, "Wow." Because they're American, they use the code all the time. They have the code in their mind, so of course they knew it. And that's a big difference in marketing research. We're not doing studies, not doing research. What I do is discovery. That's why my company is called Archetype Discoveries. We discover, because once we get the code, the code was there; we just didn't see it.
Now, the limit of what I do versus other marketing research is once I discover the code of coffee, [it's] done; I cannot do it twice. I've done coffee for Folgers. Folgers owns it; it has been using it for 12 years. I can't do coffee again. It's done. It's a discovery, and once you get the code, suddenly everything starts making sense, and now we understand why the Americans behave like this. Now we understand why coffee this way works and coffee this way doesn't work. I understand why a small $29,000 Cadillac cannot sell. I understand why -- because it's off code.
How does Folgers go about owning it?
That's a very interesting question, because at the beginning they told me: "Coffee is a commodity. How can we own something that the others do not own?" My experience is that when there is a code, it's more complex than that. There is a code and a consistency checklist. Everything has to be on code. Everything you do should reinforce the code; not just the packaging or the communication should be on code. The leaflet, the brochures, everything should be on code. And if you are the first one to position yourself like that, knowing all the different aspects, you have a competitive edge. They might try to copy, but they don't know the formula; they don't know the code behind it.
For example, aroma is number one. Why? Because we imprint the aroma first, not the taste. Aroma is imprinted at a very early age, when you are around 2. Ah, and it means home, mother, feeding you, love and so on. A large majority, 90-something percent of Americans, love the aroma of coffee. Only 47 percent like the taste.
I don't know if you remember this commercial, but it was really on code. You have a young guy coming from the Army in a uniform. Mother is upstairs asleep. He goes directly to the kitchen, "Psssst," open the coffee, and the smell -- you know, because we designed the packaging to make sure that you smelled it right away. He prepares coffee; coffee goes up; the smell goes upstairs; the mother is asleep; she wakes up; she smiles. And we know the word she is going to say, because the code for aroma is "home." So she is going to say, "Oh, he is home." She rushed down the stairs, hugged the boy. I mean, we tested it. At P&G they test everything 400 times. People were crying. Why? Because we got the logic of emotion right.
"Home" hit the reptilian brain.
That was the reptilian brain, because that's your genes. If he was a neighbor, it would not have been the same impact. It was her son. He was coming back from the Army where he might have been killed. That's another key element of the reptilian -- survival, right? He is home, which means he's alive. He's my genes back home, back to my tummy, back to my mother. And that's why she hugs him. She doesn't just say, "Hello, how are you?" She puts him back to where he comes from. That's reptilian.
The creatives who wrote that --
They were with me on the team all the way. They discovered the code with me.
They understood what "mother" means.
They had more than understanding; they got a gut feeling about it. That's the beauty of what I do, if I may say, is that I don't tell them the code. We discover it together. I want people to have the gut feeling: "This is it; now this is going to change my life; this is going to change my brain; this is going to change my product." And because they discover it with me -- discover, right? -- immediately they put it in practice.
When I worked with Chrysler, for example, we discovered that Jeeps should not have square headlights. That's a very practical thing: no square headlights. Why? I don't want to go into anything secret, but let's suppose the code for a Jeep is an animal like a horse. You don't see a horse with square eyes. The Jeep people didn't say that; they said, "Yes, I want round headlights, like a face." And we use the face of the Jeep with the grille as a logo for Jeep. So when I discovered that, that was like a very reptilian dimension. And since then, no Jeep Wranglers have square headlights.
What is the difference between good and bad marketing research? It works. Good marketing research works. When we say it works, it means that marketers understand the real need of the customers -- sometimes unspoken -- and they deliver. Right now you have a whole industry -- the airline industry -- that doesn't understand at all their customers. They're making big, big mistake. They still don't understand. Why? Because they have marketing research that goes to the people and says: "What do you want? Do you want cheaper or more expensive?" And of course people say cheaper. So they say, "You see, they want cheaper, so we're going to give them cheaper airlines, cheaper, cheaper." Now this is how, in terms of reptilian, [cheaper is interpreted]: "I can't breathe; I can't move; they don't feed me." This is awful, right? So I'm not flying anymore. I drive my car. Why? Because they've not taken care of my reptilian. And then emotionally they treat me like, you know, [I'm] checking [into] a high-security prison.
I don't know if you know that, but within a couple of years, 35 percent of all the airplanes flying in America are going to be small planes, because it's cheaper. This is hell, right? Ninety-nine dollars to go to Los Angeles? I don't care -- cheap hell is still hell. So that all these airlines are in a coma, and they're still alive because we keep feeding them with money coming from the government, but they're dead.
Do marketing departments ever react badly to your work?
They hate me. They hate me, of course, because how come I'm doing something that they're not aware of? There is a challenge all the time: "Who is this guy? What does he say?" At the very beginning, I had a very difficult time. Today, because I have a lot of success stories from Folgers coffee, the PT Cruiser and so on, they cannot reject me right away. So at the beginning usually they feel challenged. But because of the process, where they get involved with me and they discover the things together with me, at the end they love me. Once I can go through the process with these people, they say, "Wow, this is fantastic, this is great, and let's use it." I've done 35 of these discoveries for P&G alone -- 35. Reordering 35 times. Wow, it means they got something; otherwise they don't reorder. I had more than 20 for GM.
Do you think that, ultimately, people can be figured out?
Part of my theory is that in the human world, nothing happens by chance, nothing. When you see people doing something, there is always a reason why, a code. I don't pretend I know all the codes, but when I work with a client and we try to break the code, then we understand why people do that. Nothing happens by accident in the human world. It's fascinating to try to understand, to break the code.
I'm not telling you that everybody is the same. No, I'm not telling you every human being is the same. It's not that. We are all unique. Even twins are different. Everyone is unique. But we have in common some structures that come from biology. For example, we are all human; we all come from a woman, which is what I call a biological scheme. We all come from a woman, not from a man. OK, so that's a structure. But then after that, we have things that are acquired that come from the culture. But then after that, the third level is your own structure, your identity. And you are unique. Everyone is unique.
So now we have three structures: You have your unique script, what I call personal script; then you have the cultural archetype; then you have the biological scheme. Now let's suppose you are in harmony with these three levels: Then you are happy. Let's suppose there is a disconnect between the three levels: Then you're very unhappy, right? So that the problem comes from the disconnect between you own script -- the way you function as a person -- your culture and your biology. That is a key dimension here. But people's behavior can be understood, definitely. I think that once you understand the power of code, then you can decode. Once you have the code, everything that people do start[s] making sense.
And the codes can be translated into practical marketing strategies.
Yes, and those can be, of course, translated into how to address the real needs of the consumer, which means marketing practice and marketing strategies. For example, if I know that in America the cheese is dead, which means is pasteurized, which means legally dead and scientifically dead, and we don't want any cheese that is alive, then I have to put that up front. I have to say this cheese is safe, is pasteurized, is wrapped up in plastic. I know that plastic is a body bag. You can put it in the fridge. I know the fridge is the morgue; that's where you put the dead bodies. And so once you know that, this is the way you market cheese in America.
I started working with a French company in America, and they were trying to sell French cheese to the Americans. And they didn't understand, because in France the cheese is alive, which means that you can buy it young, mature or old, and that's why you have to read the age of the cheese when you go to buy the cheese. So you smell, you touch, you poke. If you need cheese for today, you want to buy a mature cheese. If you want cheese for next week, you buy a young cheese. And when you buy young cheese for next week, you go home, [but] you never put the cheese in the refrigerator, because you don't put your cat in the refrigerator. It's the same; it's alive. We are very afraid of getting sick with cheese. By the way, more French people die eating cheese than Americans die. But the priority is different; the logic of emotion is different. The French like the taste before safety. Americans want safety before the taste.