Originally Published: Slate • March 19, 2013
Clotaire Rapaille, a French-born psychiatrist-turned-marketer, has a theory about what women want in cars. In focus groups, Rapaille uses Jungian psychoanalysis to probe consumers until they reveal the unconscious “archetypes” that supposedly reside in their “reptilian” brains, steering them toward certain purchases. It was the soft gruntings of subjects’ reptilian brains, Rapaille says, that clued him in to the fact that women are obsessed with cup holders. Cup holders signify coffee, he says, and coffee signifies safety, and safety is what women want most in cars.
“The coffee archetype: You’re home, you’re safe, mother is preparing breakfast,” Rapaille told me when I interviewed him from one of his six homes, in Palm Beach, Fla. Apparently women love cup holders so much, they’ll want as many as four in front, and more in back. (Hey, the kids need a place for those juice boxes!) Rapaille presented this cup holder thing as perfectly reasonable when we spoke, but I noticed he spun it differently to Malcolm Gladwell some years back: “It’s amazing that intelligent, educated women will look at a car and the first thing they will look at is how many cup holders it has.”