Monday, 4 March 2013

Are your stripy ties sending out positive or negative signals?

If you ask anyone at random to consider the perfect logo it is very likely they will mention the Nike ‘swoosh’. It’s delightfully simple, universally understood and it fits perfectly onto the product space available. Above all, though, its tick shape and upward trajectory suggest movement and positivity.

Interestingly, a number of the world’s most successful brands have logos that feature upwards movement. Look the way the leaf sticks up towards the right on the Apple logo; Samsung’s oval lozenge appears to be subtly on the climb; Amazon’s one-click arrow swerves in the right direction; SAP’s logo is a solid pointy wedge; and Virgin has all kind of dynamics at play from the big tick onwards.

Less obvious but still full of energy are the logos of Pizza Hut, AXA, H&M, Cartier, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Gillette, HP, Kellogg’s, Heinz, KFC and Budweiser among others, all of which employ the slope of italic typefaces to indicate energy and movement.

Some of this may come as a surprise, but then you are not necessarily meant to notice these features – the idea is usually that they work subconsciously. The concept nevertheless needs to be taken more seriously than you might imagine. Where it comes up most frequently in my Presentation Skills coaching sessions is when people use hand gestures to indicate progress. “We have come a long way”, they will typically say, “from here” (placing their hands on their left) “to here (moving their hands over to their right), in just five years” . I explain that this is nicely expressive but if their hand gestures are to match, let alone reinforce, their message they need to do them the other way around. At the moment they are saying ‘forwards’ but indicating ‘backwards’ when seen from the audience’s point of view.

So what has all this got to do with stripy ties?  The answer is that if you are American it’s very possible that you are inadvertently sending out negative signals. Americans tend to wear striped ties more than we do in the UK, where stripes are invariably reserved for ‘membership’ situations such as clubs and schools and are therefore worn more for specific occasions.  The tradition in Europe is for the stripes to rise from left to right as you look at the tie, creating a subliminal positive message as with those famous logos. In America, however, it all works the other way around, with the stripes placed in a downward pattern, as you can see in the pictures below of Presidents Carter and Reagan. 

Until recently this is the style you would see worn by almost every American with striped neckwear. Business leaders, however, seem to be getting wise to this particular quirk of American tailoring. Run a Google image search on the CEOs of top US companies and of those who still wear ties, stripes have become rare; when they are worn, the European-style upward stripe is creeping in.  And look who else has got wise to the benefits of this style - with his tie nicely in sync with the positivity of his 'yes we can'-style rhetoric. 

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