Robinhood–the company that’s currently being grilled by the likes of Elon Musk, Elizabeth Warren and others over its role in the so-called “Gamestonks” controversy–has decided to plow ahead with its first ever Super Bowl ad campaign, CNBC reports.
The 30-second spot focuses on the company’s supposedly democratic approach to finance, using short clips of everyday people—small business owners, new parents, college students—that could potentially be Robinhood customers, if they aren’t already. As the ad explains, these people don’t need to become investors—they were already born being investors.
Implicitly, this innate investing skill would be put to use through Robinhood’s app.
It’s awkward to watch, because—in case you haven’t heard—Robinhood is facing at least 33 class action suits across 10 different states, all accusing the company of being anything but democratic. The sort of small-time investors being portrayed in this ad are the likely same ones calling out the app for essentially holding their accounts hostage by preventing them from buying into or selling their stocks of choice.
To back up a bit: last week, Robinhood issued a hold, keeping its users from buying what have become known as “YOLO Stocks” from floundering companies like GameStop, AMC, and Blackberry that had surged thanks to Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets community. Even after lifting that hold, there were still serious restrictions put around the number of shares that a given Robinhooder was allowed to buy through the app.
Robinhood, for its part, attempted to explain these decisions as a way for the company to keep up with the new flurry of demand for these particular stocks. But GameStop investors were less convinced. Many of the lawsuits filed in the aftermath accuse Robinhood of flat-out stock market manipulation.
In short, it’s been a weird couple of weeks. Robinhood has had to scramble for additional investment. Hedge funds that bet against GameStop have hemorrhaged billions of dollars. GameStop somehow managed to attract former Amazon Web Services executive Matt Francis to join as the company’s new Chief Technology Officer.
Robinhood could not have predicted any of this when it bought this air time and shot the commercial. But my god does seeing it in this context make an otherwise benign ad spot land with a thud. The people being portrayed in this particular ad as ideal investors are the same main street customers that forced Robinhood’s rating in the Google Play store to plummet to roughly one star—twice. These are the people that caused the ClassActionRobinhood subreddit to rocket past 45,000 members less than a week after being created.
Suffice to say, it’s going to take more than one slickly produced ad to garner these user’s goodwill.