It’s been quite a few weeks for Robinhood, the online investing app, that promises to “democratize finance for all.” What started as a Reddit fueled run on GameStop and has grown into the second coming of Occupy Wall Street will culminate in a Super Bowl commercial this Sunday.
The company’s growth is due, in no small part, to creating values equity by living up to its namesake’s mythology of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Robinhood sold itself as delivering on the mission of removing barriers to financial markets and creating accessibility for all. Strong brand values that resonated until those who valued Robinhood had the curtain peeled back and suddenly felt that they had been misled, creating customer confusion and anger. Suddenly, the brand and customer connection became complicated as public perception got very cloudy on who exactly is rich and poor in the new age tale of Robinhood.
Now Robinhood is looking to use 30-seconds of advertising on the biggest stage to recommit to its values and prevent a further erosion of alignment. The Super Bowl spot is designed to tout the accessibility and inclusiveness of investing to everyone. That, by itself, appears in complete values alignment with the founders and the brand’s pre-established equity.
What cannot be addressed in 30 seconds are the new feelings of betrayal as people realize that “Everyone is an investor” also means the rich have and will continue to benefit from the same platform. Robinhood, the “by the people” platform, is well funded, to the tune of $3.4Bn. The most recent multi-billion dollar infusion came AFTER the GameStop saga suggesting that some of the biggest VCs in the world are happy to play their part as the band of merry men too. Robinhood also derives a sizable portion of its revenue by selling user data to high frequency trading firms.
The fact is, everything Robinhood is doing is fairly common in the space and well documented, if not well publicized to customers. It’s possible though that the biggest mistake Robinhood made was not being even more invested in its values externally.
After a couple of weeks of swirling debate over which side Robinhood is on, will a message of togetherness resonate with an audience that believed they were fighting against the modern-day King John? Or will a message of accessibility combined with a sudden awareness of how closely connected Robinhood is to the Sheriff of Nottingham leave people incredulous and looking for a new hero to rescue them?
If Robinhood is truly a worthy successor to the name it bears then let’s see what happens if they continue to double down on the good business that comes from putting values first.