The Halo Effect in Branding

Image of brain scans as a metaphor for the halo effect in branding

By Nine Blaess | 3:19 min

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    What does packaging have to do with taste? Turns out, quite a lot. We tend to believe that people or things that stand out in one area will also do better in others. So, when we see well-designed packaging, we automatically attribute more value to the product itself. This is an example of the Halo Effect in branding.

    By the way, the opposite is also true. Poor design can make a product perceived as cheap, even if it’s unwarranted. In this case, we speak of the Horn Effect.

    What is the Halo Effect?

    The Halo Effect is a cognitive bias that affects our reasoning and decision-making. Our brain seeks to simplify the information we take in for quick and effortless judgments about people or things.

    Psychologist Edward Thorndike first mentioned the effect in 1920 in his book A constant error in psychological ratings [1]. Since then, numerous studies have investigated the Halo Effect and have revealed interesting findings, such as:

    • Teachers base their expectations of students not only on their academic performance but also on their appearance (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968).[2]
    • Attractive offenders receive lower sentences for comparable crimes than unattractive ones (Efran, 1974) [2] In fact, defendants who look trustworthy are less likely to be sentenced to death (Wilson & Rule, 2016) [3]
    • Attractive-looking hosts can charge higher rates on Airbnb (Jaeger et al., 2019) [3]

    These findings illustrate the powerful impact of the Halo Effect on our perceptions and decision-making.

    With this in mind, let’s delve into how the Halo Effect can be leveraged in branding.

    Tips for using the Halo Effect in branding

    1. Focus on a single brand strength

    Branding is all about creating a clear and distinct focus. By concentrating on a single brand strength, companies can avoid spreading themselves too thin. They can just rely on the consumer to fill in the blancs.

    Have you noticed this phenomenon in your own experience? I certainly have. Whenever I come across a brand that emphasises sustainability, I automatically assume that they also prioritise other ethical considerations, such as avoiding animal products and treating their employees fairly.

    So, branding can provide a filtering mechanism that helps customers make quicker and more confident decisions.

    By establishing a distinct image in the minds of consumers, brands can become top-of-mind when it comes to buying in their category.

    For example, when I think of comfy, eco-friendly shoes, I think of Allbirds. Over time, the company engraved this image in my mind by consistently focusing on sustainability in their products, stories and experiences.

    And, as Ana Andejelic pointed out, being on my mind is almost a win.[4]

    “A company that is part of the initial consideration set is two times more likely to be purchased than a company that is considered later in the decision journey.”

    2. Focus On One Product or Service

    The Halo Effect also comes into play when companies concentrate all their efforts on one product or service.

    Apple, for example, benefited from the launch of the iPod as the success of the product got directly projected onto other Apple products.

    Dyson is another example. The company is known for its first-class vacuum cleaners, but we assume that their hair dryers, for example, must be of the same quality. How wouldn’t they?

    As Apple and Dyson show, it can pay off to focus on one product, to begin with. Once people have formed an opinion about the brand, the company can gradually introduce other related products.

    3. Nail the Brand Messaging

    To get noticed, a focus alone is not enough. A well-defined messaging hierarchy helps brands to highlight their strengths and cement them in the minds of consumers.

    4. Invest in Design

    Design involves much more than you think. By design, I mean the logo, typography, colours, photography, print finishing, packaging, video etc.

    A study confirms what designers knew all along: people associate attractive packaging with high-quality products. And packaging design can influence our price perception, too. Not surprisingly, people expect a product with elaborately designed packaging (elaborate: lots of image detail, ornate typography, etc.) to cost more.[5]

    But the role of design goes beyond communicating quality and price. The design also gives consumers clues about what to expect from a company and its products, such as:

    • A simple design language can indicate ease of use, which Apple, for example, takes advantage of.
    • A colourful design can appear friendly and give the impression that customer service is accessible, too. Food nation is an example of this.

    5. Boost the Customer Experience

    By customer experience, I mean all the interactions a person can have with a brand—big and small. A seamless customer journey, and friendly customer service … each touchpoint can influence the perception of the brand as a whole.

    What do you think happens when you talk to a service representative? The Halo Effect is certainly at work.

    Much of our understanding of branding gets validated by the research around the Halo Effect. By leveraging the Halo Effect in branding, companies can increase their brand reputation and brand loyalty and thus enhance brand equity.

    However, the Halo Effect also poses a risk for brands: When people’s expectations of a brand are not met, it can harm the brand’s image.

    If you found this article interesting, you might also like The Art of Persuasion: 10 Cognitive Biases Brands Can Leverage.


    [1]The Decision Lab, Why do positive impressions produced in one area positively influence our opinions in another area?

    [2] Prera, A (2021, March 22). Why the halo effect affects how we perceive others. Simply Psychology.

    [3] Tony Evans Ph. D., When Do Appearances Matter the Most? People rely more on appearances when judging social personality traits. Psychology Today

    [4] 2021, Ana Andjelic, Why VCs should pay attention to brands, The sociology of business

    [5]Orth, Ulrich R., et al. “Formation of Consumer Price Expectation Based on Package Design: Attractive and Quality Routes.” Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, vol. 18, no. 1, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2010, pp. 23–40,

    Title image by cottonbro from Pexels


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