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Meet the Materialists, part 9: Clotaire Rapaille, Marketing Guru

John G. West

Note: This is one of a series of posts adapted from my new book, Darwin Day in America. You can find other posts in the series here.

When Kellogg needed advice about Tony the Tiger, Seagrams wanted to know more about whisky, and Samonsite wanted to understand the deeper meaning of luggage, they all called one man: Clotaire Rapaille, Boca Raton marketing guru extraordinaire. A native of France, Rapaille has parlayed a master’s degree in psychology and a doctorate in medical anthropology from the Sorbonne into a lucrative career in high-stakes world of corporate advertising. Featured by such news outlets as CNN, The New York Times, and Newsweek, Rapaille has assembled an elite client list straight from the Fortune 100.

Rapaille specializes in mixing biology, psychoanalysis, and cultural anthropology to tell corporate executives how their products connect with consumers’ deepest yearnings. He is especially popular among auto makers, having worked on various projects for General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford. According to Rapaille, “a car is a message… It has eyes, a mouth, a chin. It has a face, and that face speaks to you.” At the deepest level, cars appeal to man’s primal biological urges, provoking what he calls “the reptilian response.” In his view, people are attracted to big SUV’s because of the primal urge to survive that has been programmed into human beings down through the ages. “That’s the reptilian response,” he says. “If you’re big and strong, you will survive.” He adds that “the reptilian brain always wins.”

While Rapaille’s claims may seem a bit off-the-wall, as I explain in chapter 8 of Darwin Day in America (“The Science of Business”), he stands in a long line of psychologists and other scientists who have tried to fuse advertising with what they saw as the insights of modern science, especially efforts to view human beings as simply the products of biology and environment.

To order Darwin Day in America click here. To find out more information about the book (and watch the trailer), visit the book’s website here.