Over the past several years, media giants have been busy shuttering some of the publications under their umbrellas and slashing staff numbers with some regularity. It was against background that Condé Nast, having closed up shop for Self, Details, and Lucky magazines, as well as Teen Vogue’s print edition in the recent past, announced that it was launching a new title. The publisher behind Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Glamour, among others, revealed that artistic director Anna Wintour was working with actress Gwyneth Paltrow to turn her lifestyle website, Goop, into a quarterly print publication.
The idea behind Goop, the magazine, will be to position Paltrow “as the Oprah Winfrey of wellness” and give the digital brand a physical presence, as the New York Times stated in in April 2017. According to a statement from Wintour in connection with the Goop launch: “I’ve long known Gwyneth to have wonderful taste and vision — but with Goop she has built something remarkable, a thoroughly modern take on how we live today. Goop and Condé Nast are natural partners and I’m excited she’s bringing her point of view to the company.”
As of last month, we learned that Goop and Condé Nast are not actually "natural partners" at all. In fact, in a lengthy article that the New York Times' T Magazine published about Paltrow, it was revealed that not only are Condé Nast and Goop, which is currently valued at $250 million, not natural partners, they are not partners at all, following the publication of just two issues.
It turns out, the parties deal went south because it was not a good fit. As Paltrow told T Magazine’s Taffy Brodesser-Akner, “I think for us it was really like we like to work where we are in an expansive space. Somewhere like Condé, understandably, there are a lot of rules.” And still yet, the New York-based media giant is a company that does “things in a very old-school way.”
More specifically, the issue seemed to stem from the fact that Condé, like any other reasonable, was not on board with Goop’s practice of well, not substantiating its claims. The Times’ profile states …
Goop wanted Goop magazine to be like the Goop website in another way: to allow the Goop family of doctors and healers to go unchallenged in their recommendations via the kinds of Q and A’s published, and that just didn’t pass Condé Nast standards. Those standards require traditional backup for scientific claims, like double-blind, peer-reviewed studies. The stories [former magazine editor Elise] Loehnen, now Goop’s chief content officer, wanted to publish had to be quickly replaced at the last minute by packages like the one on “clean” getaways.
The article went on to note, “After a few too many cultural firestorms, and with investors to think about, [Paltrow] made some changes. Goop has hired a lawyer to vet all claims on the site. It hired an editor away from Condé Nast to run the magazine. It hired a man with a Ph.D. in nutritional science, and a director of science and research who is a former Stanford professor.”
But maybe most importantly, in September, Goop is hiring a full-time fact-checker, a “necessary growing pain” for the company that has managed to create a $250 million valuation – including $75 million in funding from the likes of Felix Capital, 14W, Slow Ventures, and Lightspeed Ventures – based on what Jezebel very bluntly called “bullshit wellness claims.” AV Club recently described “a wide swath of Goop’s treatments” as “legit psychotic.”
Truth In Advertising (“TINA”) used more diplomatic language, but essentially argued the same thing this time last year when it filed a formal complaint with California regulators against Paltrow’s business. The Connecticut-based media watchdog group took action after their investigation of Goop revealed more than 50 examples of the company making “deceptive health and disease-treatment claims to promote products in violation of the law.”
As of October 2017, TINA reported that Goop had removed “a number of inappropriate health statements from its site. These include claims to prevent uterine prolapse (Better Sex Jade Eggs), as well as claims to treat acne, eczema and psoriasis (Black Rose Bar).” However, TINA revealed that “the vast majority of problematic health statements catalogued by TINA.org on Goop.com remain at this time, with one claim to treat infertility now attributed to what ‘fans of the product’ have to say.”
Goop certainly is not the first company to peddle unsubstantiated claims to consumers and profiting from it; any of the detox tea companies that are currently enlisting Kardashian/Jenners to fill your Instagram timeline with their products are doing the same thing. As for how Goop managed to rake in millions of dollars doing it, Sara Wilson made a good point in an article on the Goop wellness revolution on Quartz this week, writing, “At some point in recent history, we decided to use ‘because it makes me feel good’ as a key metric by which we determine truth.”
“Truth has become, in essence, anything that makes us feel good about ourselves,” she writes. That shift, paired with the fact that “brands, more than any established mainstream systems, are rapidly becoming a consumer’s north star for truth,” meant that it is the perfect time “for the wellness industrial complex to flourish.” And Goop – with its countless haters and seemingly just as many devoted fans – managed to win.
Considering that no shortage of consumers were willing to entertain the company when its output was almost completely unverified by the types of metrics that one would expect of health or nutritional matters in 2018, imagine what will happen once it actually starts fact-checking. There is, after all, a lot more money to grab here: The wellness economy is worth $3.7 trillion.
UPDATE (October 29, 2018): Since the publication of this article, Goop has been ordered to pay $145,000 in connection with a settlement in a lawsuit filed against the company for making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of its products. Moreover, Goop is the now subject of a recently-filed complaint in which a British non-profit points to 113 examples of advertising by Goop that allegedly run afoul of the law.