And his work isn't just all about advertising. Companies will sometimes build their products based in part on his discoveries. Daimler-Chrysler found that American women want a warm, safe feeling from their cars, while many men are attracted to something with a tougher look. So, with a little help from Rapaille, the PT Cruiser was born.
"You know and I know some people look at this and just say, 'It's ugly,'" says Stewart.
"That's why some people love it, some people hate it," says Rapaille. "Nobody is neutral."
And that's a good thing? "That's perfect," says Rapaille. "That's exactly what we want. We want the intensity."
Tapping into such intensity is Rapaille's calling. He is a psychologist and anthropologist who earned his Ph.D. in his native France, and who came to America more than 25 years ago not to analyze patients, but to psychoanalyze consumers.
He says he was drawn to this country because of what he calls its adolescent culture. It's the only place in the world where you can pursue your dreams and where success is defined by the financial reward that follows.
"That's why I choose to become American," says Rapaille. "You know, I'd rather be part of an adolescent culture than a senile culture, so that there is no doubt about that."
"In fact, you once said, didn't you, that, 'We're not a country so much as we are a dream'?" asks Stewart.
"Oh, absolutely, we have big dream, you know, and we're only interested in what is impossible," says Rapaille. "And we make it. Because other people say, 'No, it's not possible.' It's not possible? Let's do it."
It's that same kind of drive that attracts executives from all over the world to his French-style mansion outside New York City because, as one client, Steve Beshara, says, for a fee of around a quarter-million dollars, Rapaille offers something traditional marketing gurus could never match.
"He drills into past experiences and reveals what influence that has on our assumptions or perceptions about a product," says Beshara, who is in charge of marketing for a small company called Turbo-Chef, which wants to redesign its commercial oven (now found in fast-food restaurants) into something
Americans feel they have to have in their home kitchens. Given that mission, Beshara, who's has been the business for 20 years, thought Rapaille was the perfect man for the job.
"Some may perceive him as a mad scientist," says Beshara. "And others think that he's brilliant and is able to provide certain insights into the cultural marketplace."
How does Rapaille do it? He sets up imprint sessions, a series of gatherings with a cross-section of consumers. 60 Minutes II watched as he went to work for Turbo Chef, and at first, it looked like the focus groups most market researchers use. But it soon turned into something far different.
He watched from behind a one-way mirror, while everyone was asked to recall memories of growing up around the kitchen. Rapaille only wanted to strip away their conditioned responses and get them ready for the most important part of the sessions, the last hour, where no focus group ever goes. He calls it "discovering the reptile."
"Three brains: the cortex, the limbic and the reptilian. The cortex is intelligence, and I don't care," says Rapaille. "The limbic is emotional and is complex. The reptilian is a key, and that's where I want to go."