Gwyneth Paltrow and the GOOPy celebrity branding caper

You might be surprised to learn that G.O.O.P. are Gwyneth Paltrow's initials. Perhaps it was a rare available four-letter domain; but the disconnect between the decidedly childish, messy connotations of the word and the muted-greys of the tagline ("nourish the inner aspect") are only the first and most glaring clues that someone has made a grave branding mis-step. Stepping further into the quirky, earnest lifestyle advice web site; offering recipes for fennel and blood orange salad, for instance, and recommendations for hotels and restaurants to visit in Paris; peels off the layers of the question: what is she doing?

A brand's underlying desirability can often survive even the most disastrous errors in brand management. If one were (for instance) to change the label on one's orange juice carton, consumers will still buy the juice even as they clamber for their old design back. A stupid ad can be tuned out. But for a celebrity? The branding and the "product" are one and the same. Brand is all they have. As branding news site brandchannel.com remarks, the aspirational qualities of a celebrity's brand are "What is a celebrity but a projected image?"

Indeed, what is a celebrity brand, if not that projected image, and if so, what is Gwyneth seeking to achieve?The image projected by GOOP.com is nothing if not Gwyneth; upper crust, certainly; endowed with enough money and free time to wonder which, exactly, was the perfect bistro with a "sicko wine list"; with an entitled but self-deprecating sense of humor (dinner at Mario Batali's house earns the disclaimer "Yes, I am a lucky motherf***er!" By subscribing to the weekly email newsletters published on and by GOOP.com, "buyers" of the Gwyneth Paltrow brand might learn her tips on calm mothering (I, for one, appreciated these) and how to "invite ease with restorative yoga" to repair your body's circadian rhythms. Along the way, a suggestion for her favorite "uniforms" -- anchored by Tod's patent leather high-heeled boots, for instance, and a 24-karat chunky gold bangle; or a Chopard pendant and a grey cashmere sweater.

Gwyneth is show looking gorgeous and playful in her muted blacks, greys and whites. And I, the aspirational Gwyneth, fall off my chair with a thud. While I might be able to make her flat bread recipe (mine won't be served with chicken with preserved lemon and pomegranate nibs, though, I'll wager), I can't afford her uniform. Maybe the grey tank, I can afford.

Celebrity watchers wonder if she's trying to become the next Oprah Winfrey (hopefully without the dieting roller coaster), the next Martha Stewart (hopefully without the insider trading scandal and any and all jail time). She's opening a gym. She has a PBS series on traveling in Spain. She's taking a break from the movie biz; her next film won't be out until 2010. Everyone, to be frank, seems really worried. "Gwyneth and fellow stars looking to branch out shouldn't forget the paths that led them to fame ... Endorsements are [for] your spare time," says a talent manager. Is she "so aspirational as to be out of reach?" asks Apartment Therapy.

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in this: in this economy, family money and a handy fortune from her movies and her husband's band is riches enough to live on. If Gwyneth wants to invest much time and money into selling others on nothing more than her tastes (for which, it appears, she's getting no endorsement money or other inducement to encourage people to love, let's say, Juicy Couture tees and steamed peas), perhaps there is no more to it than that. Gwyneth wants to spread the Gwyneth love and, as she famously said in almost incomprehensible defense of GOOP.com, "I think the people who are criticizing it or criticizing the idea of it, don't really get it, because if they did, they would like it."

You know what? She's right. I like it. And the parts I don't like (that chicken and pomegranate recipe, for instance, or the open-toed boots with the five-inch heels), I just don't get.

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