Culture Code: An Impeccable Answer to “why we do, what we do?”

Written by G. Clotaire Rapaille, a French marketing consultant and a psychologist, “The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do”(2006) is a book that helps us understand how people act across cultures and why they do so. The concept of a ‘culture code’,  is essentially a code word that each culture subconsciously ascribes to define and interpret concepts such as “Love”, “Money”, “Health and “Food”. These codes can be a great asset for marketing and advertising professionals while launching products into a different culture, as they can find the best way to communicate and resonate with a new culture through these codes.

A major takeaway from the book is that we think on three different levels within our mind which can be termed as the cortex, the limbic system and the reptilian brain. 

The author defines each as:

  • The cortex: Parts of the brain that control intelligence rather than emotion or instinct
  • The Limbic System: Part of the brain that deals with emotions, when we access and act according to our limbic system we are essentially “following our heart”
  • The Reptilian brain: A place where our instincts are housed. 

He applies this in his research technique by first asking people a straightforward question, assuming the persona of a  visitor from another planet, about a product or a concept making the subject respond from “the cortex”, then he requests his subjects to create a collage of images and words they associate with the product or concept, activating their limbic system.

And at last, he makes his subjects lie down and takes them to a state of relaxation to understand their deepest associations with a product. At this stage, all the answers come from their reptilian brains, as the cortexes connect with the reptilian brains when a person is completely relaxed.

Reading “The Culture Code” was a brilliant experience as the author takes general observations and finds the inner psyche of many cultures within the book. It inspires the reader to dig deep and understand the reason behind their own culture’s actions, thoughts and feelings. 

Rapaille discusses various cases of brands like Nestle trying to find a code of “Coffee” in Japan and Jeep Wrangler trying to understand the code for Jeeps in America, Germany and Europe to drive their marketing efforts in the right direction. In the end, Nestle is able to create coffee-based candies for children in Japan to create a strong imprint of coffee among children in a culture that heavily drank tea and the Jeep Wrangler was able to increase its sales just because it followed the American code for jeeps that “HORSE” and changed the car’s headlights from square to a round shape resembling the eyes of a horse. The power of culture code was communicated clearly through these studies.

Learning the codes for core concepts like beauty, love, health and food was an eye-opener, it indirectly explains pop culture to me, for instance, in the series “Emily in Paris” Emily is shown as a workaholic American, this representation is true as in America the code for health is “Movement” if you are not moving and not working you no longer have an established identity.

The book, however, emphasised the American culture more than the others, it would have been great to read more examples from China, Japan, Europe and India. 

“The Culture Code” is a must-read. The book imparts tons of details about culture code and how we think, without boring the reader. It’s a great book for marketers and psychology enthusiasts.

Rating: 4.5/5

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