Celebrity lifestyle brands. What are they? Why are they? Why do we love (some of) them? And why do they keep popping up as fast as they disappear?
Mavens in the space like Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey have had longstanding brands, with a well-defined evolution from catering-and-hospitality-book author and talk show host, respectively, to world-beating lifestyle gurus.
More recently, though, a phenomenon has placed well-known celebrities at the center of media outlets that strive to promote chic lifestyles and the wares necessary to attain them. From fashion to home decor to culinary tools, these sites bank on the covet-ability of the seemingly perfect life of a celebrity to drive consumer behavior and generate revenues — and they are challenging established media brands like Stewart and Winfrey’s.
In our current age of oversharing and hyperconnectivity, where the masses strive for a picture-perfect online persona and celebrities dominate our newsfeeds and social feeds with equal saturation, these sites have found a welcome audience. And as the millennial generation — which has grown up surrounded by such ventures — comes into its true potential as drivers of consumer behavior, it seems likely that the celebrity lifestyle brand will continue to flourish.
But all celebrity lifestyle brands are not destined for the same level of success. Blake Lively’s Preserve, which offered lifestyle advice as well as a combination of products including womenswear and household items, officially shuttered its digital doors on Monday (Oct. 12), proving that longevity is not a guarantee for these celebrity ventures. Lively’s is just the latest in a string of celebrity-backed lifestyle brands to go bust — and it can be hard to tell why some flourish while others fail.
One titan in the field is Gwyneth Paltrow. An unlikely heroine who for years has struggled to create a likeable and relatable public image, Paltrow launched Goop.com in 2008, supposedly “out of her kitchen,” which — haha, yeah, sure thing.
The blog was about making conscious choices that centered on clean living, organic and environmentally friendly products, and personal health and style. All of these themes were spun around the austere persona of Paltrow herself.
When Goop began, Paltrow was already a household name, an Oscar-winning actress and one of the highest paid ingénues in the film industry. She was married to a rock star, traveled the world with a bevy of celebrity friends from film and fashion, and had a lifestyle that at a glance did not seem relatable in the least. She wasn’t known for being particularly warm during interviews or open about her personal life. All of these things seemed to have the deck stacked against the success of Goop.
However, despite these factors, and the seeming disconnect between Goop and the environment into which it was born — this was the start of the Great Recession, mind you, with the housing market collapsing and the banking industry in upheaval — Goop grew. Over the next few years, Paltrow and her small team would take Goop from a weekly newsletter to a multimedia company and eCommerce hub, producing dozens of articles a day on its site and offering a line of hand-picked items for sale at price points that appeared nothing short of openly sarcastic.
Many critics have been baffled by the success of the eCommerce segment of the site, given the high-priced items it offers. In 2012, Paltrow took heat for hawking, as Time put it, “conspicuously expensive purchases,” the least of which was a $90 T-shirt that has come to be a token of the kind of opulent and unattainable items the lifestyle brand espouses. Despite that perspective, Paltrow grew a core audience that has continued to flock to her site.
Back in 2014, however, Goop had yet to generate much revenue. Enter Lisa Gersh, ex-CEO at Martha Stewart Living and a seasoned executive with experience launching and growing profitable lifestyle brands. In a savvy move, Paltrow brought in the executive to become Goop’s CEO and grow the site from a content hub to a full-fledged brand. In an article on Fortune, Gersh talked about opportunities for Goop to start offering advertising in the first quarter of 2015 and ramp up eCommerce efforts with a line of Goop-branded goods as well as products developed in partnership with established designers.
This kind of seasoned leadership might be what makes the difference between the passing celebrity lifestyle blog and a full-fledged viable brand. And Paltrow certainly has gotten the attention of her rivals.
In a longstanding feud between Stewart and Paltrow, Stewart has sounded off numerous times over the years to various sources questioning the movie star’s qualifications in the world of lifestyle and the “authenticity” of her brand. Among her more scathing sound bites are an interview for Bloomberg TV, and a particularly pointed jab that was originally printed by Net-A-Porter’s Porter Magazine, but which landed on the NYPost’s notorious Page Six celebrity gossip column. One of the juicier quotes from that original article quoted Stewart as saying, “[Paltrow] just needs to be quiet. She’s a movie star. If she were confident in her acting, she wouldn’t be trying to be Martha Stewart.”
This passive-aggressive domestic dispute reached a high point when Stewart and her editorial staff responded to a now infamous post on Goop in which Paltrow announced the split from then-husband of 11 years, Chris Martin, and subsequently coined the phrase “conscious uncoupling,” which has subsequently been removed from the Goop blog and replaced with another article articulating, if not defending, the concept. An article in the November 2014 issue of Stewart’s magazine was probably not coincidentally titled “Conscious Coupling”: about Thanksgiving pies, it used some very tongue-in-cheek verbiage to describe flavor pairings:
“Our holiday pies honor such so there’s a pleasant mix of textures and flavors in every bite. No matter how you slice partnerships, each spotlighting the perfect marriage of crust and filling these six irresistible desserts, there is a whole lot to love.”
(It should be noted that Paltrow fired back several weeks later with her own “Jailbird Cake” recipe, which suggested using “Famous” chocolate wafers — because nothing burns like a dessert-based burn.)
That Paltrow has leaned into this gossip-rag-style tête-à-tête with Stewart is likely not happenstance, but rather an essential part of her eCommerce success. As a professional entertainer first and foremost, she understands that her audience is interested in these kinds of juicy stories that revolve around celebrities.
And there’s what really differentiates companies like Goop in the eCommerce space: Celebrity lifestyle brands are more than the products they sell — they are entertainment in and of themselves. In the case of Goop, and its active participation in a rivalry with Martha Stewart, it’s arguable that page views and stories about the site provide more consistent business for Paltrow that the items she’s hawking.
After all, gossip is a heck of a lot cheaper than a $2,000 safety pin, but much more entertaining.