It’s a Zebra!

Mama Knows Branding
5 min readJan 9


When logotypes go wrong.

For you who were born a few decades ago, and not in Brazil, the expression on this article’s tittle indicates an unexpected result, especially in soccer. When the underdog team has a surprising performance and beats the top in the league, for example.

The zebra thing was actually born from another Brazilian sport, only illegal: the “Jogo do Bicho” (The animal game). Invented in Rio de Janeiro, the game consists of a betting pool with numbers that represent animals. And guess which animal is not on the list of options? That’s right, the zebra.

A few weeks ago I took my daughter to a zoo in Belgium — one of the coolest and most ethical zoos in the world. It took months of preparation at home, showing giraffes, elephants, camels, monkeys… everything so that she could recognize the animals illustrated in the books, point to the real-life ones, and smile. Everything went well. Until we got to the zebra.
Poor thing, I forgot about the animal! Building all references for my daughter to recognize the animal in the zoo escaped me.

The same thing happens with many logos out there. If the brand does not pay attention to the visual references that people have beforehand, everything can go wrong when presenting a new design.

I had paid little attention to the new Kia logo, for example, which was revitalized just over a year ago. The famous triangular letters with serifs, perched inside an egg, were given a breath of fresh air: they became futuristic waves, a bold set with shark angles.

I only recognized the new proposal because I saw it stuck to the rear of the Sportage, the automaker’s vehicle. So, I already had previous references and a clear idea of the before and after.

But then, oh well, the World Cup started.

And, in the middle of the games, on those lateral strips of the field, I was paying attention to who was in the advertisements.
Among the global giants of the financial world, sports, and fast-food, we have some curiosities: brands with unintelligible alphabets for the West; a Chinese ‘Vivo’, which looks incredibly similar to its Brazilian counterpart …. and our old Kia, with its new look.

The logo that I had seen in the streets appeared on the screens, dancing before the eyes of fans all over the world. At the same time, I thought, “This design looks very strange.”

The fact is that Kia’s new branding has a serious reading problem.

When it is not seen applied on the back of a car — and it goes to the zoo along with other brands — it loses context and starts to be read differently.

My suspicion was confirmed when the advertising folks released Google search studies showing a significant and growing wave of searches for “KN cars”. The numbers got even bigger because of the World Cup and more than made it obvious that Kia needs to revisit this now.

This unexpected problem for Kia is actually a known pitfall.

It is very common for companies to conduct market research before launching something new, like a test drive. But before ‘validating the goal’ and releasing the animal into the wild, it is necessary to validate the idea, and conduct acceptance and interpretation tests.

The mistake at this moment is the way of bringing the new proposals.

If we show the old logo first, and then show other redesigned options, we are anticipating the result. Like when I presented illustrations of animals to my daughter before showing them live and in color.

If the consumer receives the reference rather than the comparison, he will have no major interpretation problems and the conversation will be limited to aesthetic perceptions: the prettiest logo will win, not necessarily the most efficient one.

The number one rule of research is opposite to the strategy of taking children to the zoo: don’t give hints beforehand.

In this kind of case, the brand has to present the new logo upfront and ask: what brand is this?

The name of this Kia-effect is Mental Stocoma: when there is no previous history, the mind sees only what it can see, within the context it already knows.

So when the logo appeared decontextualized — without being attached to a vehicle — many people were lost.

This is not the first time that a brand design generates confusion or a wrong interpretation, which makes the designer’s job more challenging, as well as that of the company, which must approve the right proposal.

Here are some other logos that failed to deliver:

London 2012

London Olympics 2012
Many people saw Bart and Lisa Simpson in incestual gestures.

The method for home-based Math education.

When I see this logo I feel sorry for this sad child who has lost hope of learning math.

The new attempt on the right.

It lost identity and style in this visual proposal that does not sell clothes. As a matter of fact, it even looks like it has gone naked. Luckily, they went back to the original when realizing their mistake.

A former hotel in Provence

Hameau des Baux
See if you agree with me about this hotel brand from the south of France: The symbol that should represent the cicada — the insect that sings in summer — also looks like a tulip, a type of flower that is not from the region. More intriguing than that, some people swear it is the image of another flower: a woman’s genital organ. What do you think?

Many people believe that only small companies make these errors when creating the visual identity of their brands. But the truth is, it can happen to anyone.

Brand design cannot rely only on aesthetics; it needs density, a substance that generates the right interpretations for the brand. Or as I like to say, “Design is not just a pretty face.”



Mama Knows Branding

A mother's view on the world of Brands