BROOKE GLADSTONE: John Kerry may well be on course, but it's never too early to sharpen a candidate's image. And so we learned that earlier this year, medical anthropologist and marketing consultant Clotaire Rapaille sat down with an unpaid Kerry adviser to talk shop. Rapaille is originally from France, so he may seem an odd choice to advise a candidate maligned for his Gallic family ties, but some of the Fortune 500's biggest companies have tapped Rapaille for tips on how to appeal to American consumers. We spoke to him last about GM's ad campaign for the Hummer. Rapaille bases his approach on the theory of the Triune Brain, which postulates that our minds work on three levels. They are, in order of evolutionary development, the reptilian - responsible for basic survival behaviors like fight or flight -- the limbic, which governs our emotions -- and the neocortex, control center for language and rational thinking.
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: The one that always wins is the reptilian brain, so you know, every candidate is interested in trying to connect with the collective reptilian brain.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is the part of the brain that isn't beset by ethical considerations.
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE:The reptilian is very much into survival, instinct, reproduction. But you see, I was born and, and raised in Europe, and I chose to become an American. But there are two different ways of thinking. The European way is always everything is subtle. There are a lot of nuances. The gray color is everywhere. We're not sure of this; we're not sure of that; and we try this and-- okay. The reptilian brain is different. At the reptilian, you're not a little bit pregnant. You are pregnant or you're not pregnant. You're not a little bit dead. You're either dead or not dead. And some people, when we live in a world of a lot of confusion, they want to be re-assured; they want to be re-connected with the reptilian. Senator Kerry might be a very intelligent guy, and I'm sure he is, very full of nuance and understanding all the different subtlety of everything. I am not sure this is what America needs right now. You know--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what would you tell Kerry to do?
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: Buy a ranch.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Buy a ranch. Okay.
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: A pickup truck. I'd put a gun on the back, and a six-pack of beer and go speak with real people in Middle West.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But the suggestions you just had for Kerry to improve his image with the American voters is to turn himself into George W. Bush. I mean right now the country is divided almost exactly in half. Why should he turn into Bush?
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: No, no - I don't want him to turn into Bush. I think that the both candidates should be connected with the reptilian, and, and right now maybe Bush is more reptilian because he is less cortex. And this is clear.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right.
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE:But Americans don't like intellectuals. We're afraid of intellectual people. To think too much is dangerous. We want people to have the gut feeling about what I need. If I had the possibility to give an advice to Senator Kerry, I would say he has to really learn to give simple answers to simple questions. He has to stick with one or two words -- not 25, not 35 - because you lose people very quickly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The New Yorker recently observed that Kerry has suddenly stopped speaking to French reporters in their native language. Is he merely shedding his associations with France here, or does the fact that he's no longer speaking French suggest that being educated is somehow a turnoff.
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: For some people absolutely. You know, I want my mother to have a gut feeling about when she's going to take me to the hospital or not. It doesn't matter how many books she read. You know, it's okay, when you're a good reptilian person. Then you have the limbic and the cortic - it's fine. But when you are cortex and there is a risk that you are only cortex, that's what people really resent.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So we're on to something here: Clinton appealed both to the reptilian and to the cortex.
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE:Absolutely. I mean he was always reptilian. His, his saga, his story was fantastic. Always a girl under the table. He was a genius in providing material to all the comedians of the nation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Is packaging a candidate to sell to the American people the same as, say, package the Hummer? Are you going for the same basic thing?
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: Well, knowing the power of a brand and the, the connection we have with these brands is, is powerful. A candidate is a brand, and a candidate should know what he stands for. For example, when you say Volvo, you say safety. This is one word. Okay? When you say Kerry -- what do you say? Kerry need to do a better job in defining who he is, because so far, the Bush campaign is trying to labelize John Kerry as flip-flop. Well this is not a good brand. It's like if a car maker was labeling his competitors "rollover," and so immediately when you see a Range Rover, you say oh, rollover - this car is not safe.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If the candidates -- now I'm going to sound a little like Barbara Walters, [LAUGHTER] but if you were to assign car makes to candidates, would Bush be the Hummer?
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And what would Kerry be?
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: Hybrid. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Clotaire Rapaille, thank you very much.
CLOTAIRE RAPAILLE: My pleasure. Always a pleasure to be with you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Clotaire Rapaille is a medical anthropologist and author of the new book, Archetyping the Presidency, which hits store shelves this summer.