Robinhood Should Stay on the Super Bowl Sidelines This Year

The Big Game spot is fuel for ill will

Announcing! Brandweek is headed to Phoenix, Arizona this September 23–26. Join us there to explore the future of marketing, discover cutting-edge strategies and network with the best in the business.

Each Super Bowl we see commercials that wow, ranging from splash to substance. A big part of meeting the moment is to have a very candid assessment of whether running an ad is the right decision for a brand—at this specific moment in time.

Enter Robinhood, the brand that had asserted itself as a tool to democratize the process of investing for all—and then barely over a week ago, proved to not live up to that brand promise in a short-term decision that has eviscerated its long game

Despite the fumble, Robinhood is choosing to air an ad in Sunday’s big game. This choice is going to cost Robinhood far more than the media and production dollars that went into the ad itself, by compounding the recent damage it set into motion. If one of the guiding principles of marketing is that perception is reality, Robinhood is either unwilling to accept the current perception of its brand—or believes it can out message reality. The best placement in the world may buy reach, but it does not buy trust or credibility. The best creative may spark conversation and impact perception, but if that creative is in opposition to how a brand actually exists in the world, the creative is nothing but fuel for additional ill will.

Robinhood choosing to launch a brand spot before it gets its house in order is a bad call. Launching a Big Game ad that shows that the company is in service of all investors could not be more misaligned to the current perception.  Robinhood made a choice that undercut its entire value proposition and brand promise, and until it is remedied, there is no ad creative or marketing solution that will save them from wrongdoing. It would be the imaginary equivalent of a company like BP being responsible for an oil spill, and then running an ad about how they want to fuel the future while actively harming the planet.

People are going to have a field day with this ad. Robinhood’s blunder and the subsequent fallout is fresh in everyone’s minds. The brand is now taking a sharp left turn, the stuff that SNL sketch dreams are made of. 

Robinhood’s decision makes it clear that they are looking for a quick fix and not understanding the real impact on brand, nor the additional hits it’s about to take:

  • Advertising won’t fix a brand, it won’t fix a product and it certainly won’t erase a crisis.
  • Consumers are more savvy, more connected and more discerning than ever before. Tolerance for hypocrisy is at a minimum; only accountability and action can right a wrong.
  • Fix the business first and then understand the position, the perception and the consumer to determine how to rebuild and re-introduce the brand to the world.

When a brand ignores the reality of how it is perceived and proceeds despite the red flags, the risk is never worth it.  It’s not about running a cautious route, it’s about recognizing that hypocrisy never lands well and that as a marketer, reading the room is as important as any other data point you’ll ever analyze. Robinhood has chosen to take the field, despite many red flags, and I think they are about to get sacked. 

For all the latest Super Bowl advertising news—who’s in, who’s out, teasers, full ads and more—check out Adweek’s Super Bowl 2021 Ad Tracker and the rest of our stories about the Big Game. And join us on the evening of Feb. 7 for the best in-game coverage of the commercials anywhere.