Home > Memory > Why Do I Recognize Everyone in these Ads? Explaining the Halo Effect Using Super Bowl Commercials

Why Do I Recognize Everyone in these Ads? Explaining the Halo Effect Using Super Bowl Commercials

The Super Bowl is one of the largest, most publicized sporting events in the world. And, even if you don’t know a thing about football, odds are you watch the Super Bowl to see the ads, or you look them up on YouTube the next day so you’re up to speed on the ones people are talking about. My personal favorite is the Bubly seltzer commercial with Michael Bublé. Michael Bublé is probably best known for his Christmas albums, but he also has a lot of non-holiday music that has made him a well-known and successful artist all around the world. In the commercial, Michael walks into a convenience store and looks at the rows of Bubly seltzers, then sits on the floor with a sharpie and changes them all to say Bublé instead of Bubly, as seen in the photo below. He also calls it Bublé seltzer instead of Bubly seltzer, and refuses to believe the workers when they tell him he is wrong.

Michael Bublé Stars in Bubly’s Super Bowl Ad

As mentioned above, Michael Bublé is pretty much the Christmas music representative of this generation (and every generation) and he has become a fairly popular household name. So, naturally, he would have to be in a Super Bowl commercial for one company or another. Big brands using famous celebrities in their ads demonstrates what is called the halo effect: brands like to use attractive, well-known people in their ads because when we see someone we have positive thoughts about, we will associate those positive attributes with the product they are advertising. Everyone loves Michael Bublé, or can at least feel favorably about him after seeing his charismatic personality in the commercial, so everyone will want to love Bubly seltzer, the product he is advertising. I mean, look at the picture of him sitting on the floor changing Bubly to Bublé. Who wouldn’t love that face?

Let’s look at another Super Bowl commercial. In 2012, the band One Direction did a Pepsi commercial with football legend Drew Brees. The commercial begins with Harry Styles, a member of the band, and Drew Brees both reaching for a Pepsi, and the two begin arguing over who gets to drink it, which is shown in the photo below. They first compare their achievements (One Direction’s platinum album versus Drew’s Super Bowl Rings), then their fan bases (One Direction’s screaming teenage girls versus Drew’s equally loud middle-aged football fans). Finally, Niall Horan of One Direction tells Drew that he can be in the band if he gives Harry the Pepsi. The commercial ends with the six of them performing on stage, with Drew as the band’s new frontman.

Pepsi Pits One Direction against NFL Star in Live For Now Push

One Direction is not popular with everyone, but parents of any teenage girl in 2012 would definitely have heard the name. Similarly, most teenage girls would not know Drew Brees, but anyone remotely familiar with football would. All of them present their achievements in the commercial, and the whole ad has an upbeat and funny attitude. So, even if one is not familiar with One Direction or Drew Brees, they will associate them with the overall positivity of the commercial, and will thus associate Pepsi with that same positivity. 

One study by Joseph Forgas supports this. The study found that initial positive attitudes lead to positive impressions of an author, while an initial negative attitude would lead to negative impressions of an author. This helps demonstrate how positive attitudes lead to positive impressions of other people, which can be applied to Super Bowl commercials. It also shows us the effects of top-down processing, which is when we use our preexisting knowledge to make judgements about people and situations. Using the same Pepsi commercial example, if you are a One Direction superfan in 2012 and you see Harry Styles drinking Pepsi, you are going to want to drink Pepsi as well. This is because you have a positive attitude towards Harry so you will associate anything that Harry does with positive outcomes.

Pepsi is such a successful brand that people watching their ads will most likely know that they are a big name soda brand. But what happens when there is a brand you are not familiar with that comes up in a Super Bowl ad? In another study by Park et al., researchers looked at how familiarity with a brand would impact consumers’ impressions of it. They found that when consumer familiarity with a product was low, the halo effect was very common. In other words, when we do not know much about a product, we rely heavily on the brand’s image. Relying on the brand’s image is an example of top down processing because we are using our own knowledge about other things and applying it to new information we are learning about a brand or product (take a look at this post about how top down processing works with our ability to recognize faces and other features!). Let’s look at Idris Elba’s commercial with booking.com, which includes him wearing a big fuzzy winter hat on a tropical beach, which is shown in the photo below.

Booking.com and Idris Elba Bring Unsexy Back in Super Bowl Ad

While Idris Elba has become more of a household name over the years, most people may not be familiar with the company he is advertising, booking.com, which is a website that helps travelers find good deals on flights and hotels. The commercial is essentially Idris Elba strolling through various vacation destinations while telling the audience how simple booking.com tries to be in comparison to super trendy or “lit” websites they compete with. Even if you do not know who Idris Elba is, from the moment he starts talking you realize he has the most soothing voice. Hughes and Miller found that people have a tendency to associate attractive voices with attractive faces. So, we will pay attention to the perceptual cue of his voice instead of the meaningful cue of how easy it is to use booking.com because we find his voice attractive, so we will find his face to be more attractive as well. Then, if we do not remember part of the commercial, we will simply fill in the gaps with positive aspects we believe to have been in the commercial that we base off the attractiveness of his voice and his face (this post does a great job explaining more about attention and what we miss when we direct our attention to a specific thing). Also, such a soothing, attractive voice will lead to positive thoughts and feelings, so we can’t not associate whatever Idris Elba is advertising with the same peacefulness and positivity that we get from listening to him talk. 

Filling in the gaps like this is part of a process called reconstructive memory. In one study, researchers looked at how attributions, or assumptions about others’ behavior and personality, that we make act as retrieval cues when we try to remember things. They found that when people focus more on their opinions of the person presenting the information, they are less likely to recall the information and more likely to recall their thoughts on the person. This is also more likely to happen when the information is not of major importance. This phenomenon occurs when we watch Super Bowl commercials because, as with Idris Elba in booking.com, we focus on what we liked about the person presenting the information rather than the information itself. Same with One Direction and Drew Brees in their Pepsi commercial: we make inferences about the people in the commercial, and when we are looking back on the information presented, we base it off of the inferences we made about the members of One Direction and Drew Brees. Even in Micheal Bublé’s Bubly commercial, we associate Bubly with the attributes we believe Michael Bublé to have. (For more information on reconstructive memory and “rosy retrospection,” check out this blog post!)

The halo effect works with memory encoding to get us to remember the product (this post does a great job explaining how encoding works and why we can’t multitask). This works because of the types of cues used. When we encode information, or store it in our memory, we use two types of cues to help us: perceptual cues, such as the sound of someone’s voice, and meaningful cues, like what the word “cat” means. Leussether et al. found that consumers do not pay attention to all the details about a product when watching its advertisements. Later on, when trying to remember the meaningful details from the ad, they will fill in the gaps in their memories with what they believe they heard about the product. These details are often based on a consumer’s assumptions about the product based on the perceptual cues they saw, like how attractive the celebrity selling the product was.

But what happens when it is a celebrity we don’t know? Let’s look at Toyota’s 2022 Superbowl ad with paralympic swimmer Jessica Long, who is pictured below.

Paralympic swimming star Jessica Long talks training, Tokyo and Toyota’s Super Bowl ad about her life

Toyota’s ad recreates a phone call from paralympic swimmer Jessica Long’s adoption agency to her adoptive parents. The woman on the phone tells Jessica’s parents that she was born with a condition that will eventually cause her legs to be amputated. As we hear the phone call, we also see Jessica swimming past moments from her childhood where she learned to love swimming, and it ends with Jessica swimming up next to her parents as her adoptive mother says they would love to take her, which is shown in the photo above. Jessica’s story of being adopted by a loving family is enough to bring most viewers to tears. Toyota is using this commercial as a way to bring out our emotional, sympathetic sides, and wants us to associate their brand with the same happiness and positivity we feel when we hear a story about a girl being adopted by a caring and supportive family. So, when someone who doesn’t know Jessica Long watches the commercial, they will focus on the emotions the commercial brings out in them and, if they miss any information, will assume it is in line with the emotions they felt about Jessica’s story.

The lesson from all of this is simple. Next year when you inevitably watch the Super Bowl and eagerly watch the new commercials, remember to pay attention to what the ad is instead of just who is presenting it. I mean, you probably won’t, but now you at least know why.


Eleftheriou-Smith, L.-M. (2012). Pepsi: new ‘Live for Now’ ad. Campaign. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/pepsi-pits-one-direction-against-nfl-star-live-push/1154374.

Hughes, S. M., & Miller, N. E. (2016). What sounds beautiful looks beautiful stereotype: The matching of attractiveness of voices and faces. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 33(7), 984–996. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407515612445

Jin Yong Park, Kyungdo Park & Alan J. Dubinsky (2011) Impact of retailer image on private brand attitude: Halo effect and summary construct, Australian Journal of Psychology, 63:3, 173-183, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1742-9536.2011.00015.x 

Forgas, J. P. (2011). She just doesn’t look like a philosopher…? affective influences on the halo effect in Impression Formation. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41(7), 812–817. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.842 

Leuthesser, L., Kohli, C. S., & Harich, K. R. (1995). Brand equity: The halo effect measure. European Journal of Marketing, 29(4), 57–66. https://doi.org/10.1108/03090569510086657 

Notte, J. (2022). Booking.com and Idris Elba Bring Unsexy Back in Super Bowl Ad. AdWeek. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/booking-com-idris-elba-super-bowl-ad/.

Schad, T. (2021). Swimmer Jessica Long, a 13-time Paralympic gold medalist, stars in Toyota’s ad for Super Bowl 55, titled “Upstream.” Courtesy of Toyota. USA Today. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/Ad-Meter/Super-Bowl/2021/02/03/jessica-long-takes-center-stage-toyotas-super-bowl-commercial/4292908001/.

Schultz, E. J. (2019). Michael Bublé Stars in Bubly’s Super Bowl Ad. AdAge. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://adage.com/article/special-report-super-bowl/michael-bubl-starts-bubly-s-super-bowl-ad/316281. 

Wells, G. L. (1982). Attribution and reconstructive memory. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 18(5), 447–463. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-1031(82)90065-8

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