Cracking Open Your Wallet

A Psychologist Demonstrates A Feel For The Market

Why do we buy the things we buy, and choose one product instead of another? The person who can solve those mysteries stands to make a fortune, and many of America's largest companies think they've found him.

Dr. Clotaire Rapaille is a French-born psychologist who believes the best way to crack open the average American's wallet is to dig into our earliest childhood memories. Sound a little weird? Correspondent Jim Stewart reports.

Chances are, there is one man who has had a hand in the way you spend your money virtually every day, from helping to market the coffee you may drink, to the car you may drive, to the jet we may all soon fly in.

Dr. Clotaire Rapaille may seem more than just a little bit French, but he is an American citizen who understands that what makes his fellow consumers tick is a lot more than just silly commercials.

"All the people that say, 'Oh, if you have a good advertising, you can force people to buy something,'" says Rapaille. "I mean, we are not that dumb. It doesn't work very long."

Says Stewart, "We're the most consumer-driven society in the world. Do you think that a lot of our companies get it wrong?"

"A lot of them," says Rapaille. "A lot of them."

Rapaille advises his corporate clients that to be successful in the marketplace, what they really have to do is appeal to our earliest emotions. That's his specialty: helping open our wallets by divining what he calls our first imprints.

"What I mean by imprint is…the first time you create the mental structure in your brain," says Rapaille. "It varies (at what age it happens) because it depends what. For example, when you are a 2-year-old, you imprint coffee for the first time. Hah! Interesting, because at 2, you don't drink coffee. Ah. So what do you imprint? The aroma."

Aroma triggers fond memories of home for Americans. So in the late '80s, Rapaille helped the makers of Folgers build an entire marketing campaign around that notion, because he believed the best way to sell coffee was to actually sell memories of coffee.

It's a concept that has withstood the test of time. And ever since, Rapaille's fingerprints can be found all over the American marketplace, often in ways that you may not see, but you can certainly feel.