Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kill The Messenger.

During the Middle Ages, when a messenger would be sent to deliver a message to a monarch, they would be killed if the king or queen did not like the message, usually by beheading. Some might think recently that the political scene in la ville de Québec is not that far removed from this type of feudal imbroglio.

The emperor – oh, sorry – the mayor of Quebec City Régis Labeaume, was still basking in the glory of celebrating the 400th anniversary of La Ville, when he convinced the conseil municipal to spend $300,000. for the professional services of Clotaire Rapaille in order to keep tourism in full bloom.

If this stirs vague memories of Clochemerle, a satirical novel by Gabriel Chevallier (and a 1972 BBC telly serial ) set in a French village that must deal with the ramifications of the mayor’s grandiose plans to install a public urinal in the village square, read on.

In February Monsieur Rapaille revealed, with great media panache, the results of his research – so far.

His method, which he has applied to dozens of major corporations, including Chrysler, Procter & Gamble and Nestle, seeks to unlock people's deepest feelings about a product or location. In Quebec City, the 250 participants spent 20 minutes lying on their backs listening to new-age music and being encouraged to relax. They were then asked to write down profound memories of the city. Mr. Rapaille had planned to go over the hundreds of pages of notes gathered, hunting for the "code" that defines the city. ...

At his introductory news conference, he warned that Quebec City had to avoid becoming "a tourist dump" like Venice and move beyond postcard cliches. Otherwise, the city would become "a retirement home for old people eating poutine."

Many people assumed that the information discovered by the mayor's guru would help craft a marketing campaign directed at new generations of tourists who would happily spend money in Quebec City.

Mayor Régis Labeaume wants the city to undergo an image makeover he said it needs to give the city a more modern feel after the huge success of its 400th anniversary celebrations in 2008.

Mr. Rapaille told a group of communications and marketing specialists Wednesday that “Quebeckers are emotional. Now don't get angry when I tell you that you are completely neurotic,” he said in his presentation.“You are like a sadomasochist couple. The sadist needs the masochist and the masochist needs the sadist. … These types of couples last an eternity, they are the best couples, the most stable. You are with the English a sadomasochist couple and you will be that way forever.”Quebeckers' emotional impulses toward the rest of Canada are part of what Mr. Rapaille calls their “primal reptilian core,” which he says constitutes the “code” that lies deep in people's subconscious. Unravelling that code is, he says, the key to determining how consumers behave toward products. Mr. Rapaille wants to determine how Quebec City residents relate to their city in the same way he helped Dubai and Singapore discover their own particular “code.”

Some journalists were taken aback and challenged the justesse of M. Rapaille's expert market research techniques and his knowledge of Quebec's culture. In response, M. Rapaille claimed he has long been emotionally connected to Quebec because he heard songs from 'le grand Félix' during the German occupation of France. Recordings of Leclerc's music became available in France only after 1950. This anachronism motivated some reporters to investigate M. Rapaille's background in depth.

Le Soleil discovered that Mr. Rapaille falsely listed the French government as one of his clients on his website. He said he had conducted an "archetype discovery on nuclear energy" for the late French president Georges Pompidou. In fact, Mr. Rapaille told Le Soleil, the work was for a charitable foundation established by Mr. Pompidou's widow.

He has also vaunted his work for such cities as Singapore, Dubai, Paris and Venice. Questioned by Le Soleil, he acknowledged the studies were not for the municipalities but for business clients seeking to break into those cities' markets. Quebec City was his first municipal client.

Well, well, well. Mayor Labeaume was not amused by the reporters' investigation. In fact, he became quite testy at a press conference this week.
Unhappy with the questions he was facing, he told the reporters they did not represent the public but profit-seeking companies. He told a journalist from Le Devoir that her recent story, in which a British marketing expert questioned the hiring of Mr. Rapaille, was "journalism of the colonized."
Right. M. Rapaille can declare that Quebeckers have a sadomasochistic rapport with the rest of Canada - and that's OK.

Surely Mayor Labeaume can return to Holt-Renfrew those leather chaps and the studded collar he purchased, in anticipation of his role in promoting the essence of Quebec City. Perhaps he can focus on a different type of feeling instead.

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