An exchange with Clotaire Rapaille, psychologist and marketing expert, about the 'reptilian brain' and how consumers make choices:

from Frontline/PBS, "The Persuaders" airdate: 11/11/04

CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: 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 know, in case I need to go off road." Well, you live in Manhattan. Why do you need a four-wheel drive in Manhattan? "Well, you know, sometime I go out and I go in"-- I mean, this is-- you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand that this is disconnected. This has nothing to do with what the real reason is for people to do what they do. >>>

[Rapaille has 50 of the Fortune 100 companies as clients. He believes all purchasing decisions really lie beyond conscious thinking and emotion and reside at a primal core in human beings. He uses the elemental description of the three parts of the brain, with the reptilian inner core the most primitive (appetite, fear, lust, aggression), next the limbic brain (emotions), lastly the cortex (higher reason).]

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Tonight Rapaille has been invited to speak to the Luxury Marketing Council of America.

GREGORY FURMAN, Chairman, Luxury Marketing Council: The premise of the council has been to bring the smartest minds in marketing together and help us all figure out ways to get money from the customers with the most money.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Rapaille has been commissioned by a handful of big companies like Boeing and Acura to "break the code on luxury."

CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: It's absolutely crucial to understand what I call "the reptilian hot button." My theory is very simple. The reptilian always win. I don't care what you're going to tell me intellectually, give me the reptilian.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Over the years, Rapaille has told car makers to beef up the size of their SUVs and tint the windows because the code for SUVs is domination. >>>

In Tuxedo Park, New York, Dr. Rapaille is...ready to unveil the code on luxury. Rapaille's clients, who represent industries as diverse as insurance, automobiles and fragrances, are filled with anticipation. Having together paid several hundred thousand dollars, they are convinced the code will give them a competitive advantage, no matter what they're selling.

BLAKE EMERY, Boeing Corporation: We're here because we're always looking for ways to be more competitive in the marketplace.

The interior of our new airplane, the 7E7 Dreamliner, much of that interior is based on research that we did with Dr. Rapaille. Everything you see has an overt improvement, but there is also a hidden, unarticulated itch that we're scratching. And I can't give you an example of those.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] Of course, it's impossible to know if Rapaille's excursions through the collective unconscious really uncover what drives us, whether to Boeing airplanes or any other product. But even if he is onto something, you have to wonder about the net effect of reducing us to our most primal impulses.

[Rushkoff to Rapaille] What about the environment? If the lizard wants the Hummer --


DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: -- then -- and the lizard's not going to listen to the environmentalist --


DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: -- then isn't it our job, as aware people, to get the reptile to shut up and appeal to the cortex, to appeal to the mammal?

CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: Now, you see, the problem is here, is that, if you think, right, the people who want to do good not always do good, all right? So the people that want to do good -- for example, let's say, OK, we need to make smaller cars, right, to protect the environment. Then nobody buys the smaller car. Why? Because they're too small. So then the result is they go into trucks.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: [voice-over] Looks like I'm not going to win this one. After all, it's hard to argue against the reptilian brain.

CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: We have to understand the unspoken needs of the people. It works. Good marketing research works. When we say it works, it mean that marketers understand the real need of the customers -- sometime unspoken -- and they deliver. "Give me what I want."

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: "Give us what we want." It is has become the imperative that no corporation -- or any persuader -- can afford to ignore. That's why modern political campaigns have also come to rely on an army of pollsters and market researchers all taking the moment-by-moment pulse of the man on the street.

FRANK LUNTZ: "80 percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect. I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think. I can change how you think, but how you feel is something deeper and stronger, and it's something that's inside you. How you think is on the outside, how you feel is on the inside, so that's what I need to understand."

Frontline, "The Persuaders" [home page]

Frontline, "The Persuaders" [Rapaille interview]

Frontline, "The Persuaders" [Frank Luntz, Republican consultant, on meshing politics and marketing techniques]

Frontline, "The Persuaders" [program transcript]