Unpacking the Controversial Success of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop: Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Unpacking the Controversial Success of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop

Is there really no such thing as bad publicity? Here’s what Goop teaches us about surviving controversy. 

From Balenciaga’s problematic advertising campaigns to the Kanye West scandal, many companies are riddled with controversy lately.  But controversy is not always bad for business. Goop, the lifestyle brand founded by American actress Gwyneth Paltrow in 2008, has weathered the storm of negative attention and emerged stronger than ever. In this article, we take a look at Goop’s long and controversial past and how it continues to thrive despite it and sometimes even because of it. 

Generating interest

One of the major benefits of being a controversial brand is that you are always in the limelight. To make the most of controversial events, you have to strike a delicate balance between generating buzz and inviting negative backlash. It means that the controversy shouldn’t be either too little or too much; otherwise, no one would discuss your brand. 

Goop has managed to master the art of controversy with finesse due in large part to its provocative yet calculated marketing campaign. For instance, when Goop began selling the “This Smells Like My Vagina” candle in 2020, it was just controversial enough to be heavily discussed. There were articles about what the candle meant and what it smelled like. The idea of a vagina-scented candle was so extraordinary that it quickly sold out. Since then, Goop has come out with another vagina candle called “Hands off My Vagina”. 

More haters = a chance to share your message

If your company’s products are met with hate, it’s almost inevitable that haters will obsessively bash your brand whatever chance they get. While this might seem like a bad thing at first glance, it can actually work out in your favor. If your hater has a substantial social media presence, they can inadvertently bring attention to your company. 

Goop, with its fair share of detractors, has experienced this firsthand. From books titled “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?” dedicated to tearing down the brand to comments from famous people like American television personality Martha Stewart—who said that Gwyneth Paltrow “just needs to be quiet. ”—Goop has been subject to relentless criticism. However, this has given Paltrow a chance to address her critics and explain her way of life, which in turn generates more buzz for her brand. 

Creating exclusivity 

Image courtesy of Goop’s website

Goop has a clear understanding of its audiencehigh-income women. According to web analytics company SimilarWeb, Goop.com’s audience is 30.90% male and 69.10% female. 

To maintain exclusivity and target this particular demographic, Paltrow decided to create a range of products specifically for them. When the Goop newsletter hit 400,000 readers in 2012, the company launched a plain white t-shirt (pictured above) under the Goop brand that was sold for US$90. While some have criticized the brand for being out of touch or inaccessible due to its pricing strategy, Paltrow believes that Goop must remain aspirational. She believes that since the company makes “beautiful” products, it is only natural that they come with a higher price tag. 

Despite not everyone being able to afford the US$90 t-shirt, the buzz around it drove a lot of people to Goop’s website just to see what the fuss was about. This helped the company expand all the while still maintaining a touch of exclusivity.

Changing the narrative

Goop has proven time and time again that it knows how to handle criticism with ease. Instead of succumbing to the pressure, the controversial brand has mastered the art of changing the narrative unapologetically and has doubled down to stand its ground. A good example of this is when Goop recommended a line of Body Vibes stickers in 2017 that claimed to ease anxiety, pain and hangovers, and were supposedly made from the same material as NASA space suits. 

However, when NASA representatives and doctors came out to disprove these claims, Goop didn’t back down. Instead, they issued a statement clarifying that the engineer who created the stickers was misinformed about the origins of the material. The company reiterated, “Our content is meant to highlight unique products and offerings, find open-minded alternatives and encourage conversation.” 

So what should Goop teach us?

Despite a history of problematic products and recommendations, Goop has a net worth of US$230 million as of 2023. Founder Paltrow has even been featured on the American business reality show Shark Tank, which goes to show that she and her business do have something valuable to teach budding entrepreneurs out there.

Perhaps the biggest lesson of Goop’s story should be that more often than not, all press is good press. They got a lot of eyeballs on their business by consistently doing controversial things and creating a strong customer base that supports their products, no matter how extravagant they are. 

Yet, it is paramount to be mindful that too much controversy can land you in hot water with authorities, which is exactly what happened with Goop in 2018. The company was sued by officials in the U.S. state of California for falsely advertising multiple products, including an essential oil blend that the company claims fights depression and two jade and quartz eggs that supposedly boost women’s sexual energy and health. While controversy can be beneficial, make sure not to lie to your customers just for the sake of attention. Or else, you may end up like Goop, paying a hefty sum such as the US$145,000 Goop in damages they had to pay. 

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Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


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