Consumers: Driven by unconscious forces! Are cultural archetypes the key to our decision-making?

Stefanie Thuermer

Student thesis: Master thesis


The voice of the consumer is the guiding principle for most market activity. Marketing strategies rely heavily on market research qualitative and quantitative to find out what the customer desires. However, the French-born researcher Clotaire Rapaille claims that this voice of the customer essentially can’t be believed and that the only way to truly understand what the customers want is to ignore what they say and look at the context of their stories instead. The theory behind his statement is that what consumers relate during focus groups is only what the conscious mind produces. However, decisions are almost exclusively made unconsciously, many governed by culture-specific imprints from early childhood. In order to elicit these unconscious responses Rapaille has developed a method called Archetypes Discovery which comprises a series of qualitative research methods. The results of an Archetypes Discovery leads to cultural archetypes and a Culture Code, which are according to Rapaille the keys to consumers unconscious minds, hence to their decision making. This master thesis set out to investigate what lies behind the provoking theory of Rapaille. In this subsequent study the fields of psychology, neurology and marketing research are united providing a unique context for understanding and interpreting qualitative research data. To achieve this goal, first the theoretical basis for Rapaille’s theory is assessed in psychological and neurological terms, resulting in the confirmation that consumer’s decision making is ultimately orchestrated by the unconscious. Secondly Rapaille’s method of Archetypes Discoveries is compared to conventional focus groups indicating clear benefits in the multistrand approach of the former. Finally the heart of this research project is to scientifically test Rapaille’s theory and method by means of an empiric case study for privately-owned perfumeries in Germany. The empiric study had been divided into two parts first conducting the Archetype Discovery for perfumeries in Germany and extracting the German archetypes and Culture Code. Secondly by testing a print advert designed according to the Culture Code versus a print advert contrary to it by means of an online survey in order to assess the preference, hence the validity of Rapaille’s theory. Resulting from the first part of the empirical research the Culture Code for perfumeries in Germany was determined to be ‘by invitation only’ referring to the archetypical tension between restricted exclusivity and desirability perfumeries in Germany evoke in their customers. However, when conducting the Validity Test comparing the two adverts based on advertising liking the theories and effectiveness of the Culture Code postulated by Rapaille could not be scientifically proven. Nevertheless at the very least they served as thought-provoking impulses leading to implications for both marketing research theory and marketing perfumeries in Germany.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages99