GOOP: a lesson in branding for eight-year-olds

September 27, 2008

Ha! You’re telling me. But you probably don’t even know what I’m talking about, and why would you? I’m exhausted; done in; emerged from the eye of the storm with nothing to show for it yet besides a few dreams about restaurants where the tables are too close together: clearly I’m just raving.

Well, no. For I am here to tell you that GOOP is real, and it is a website. I have discovered it at just the right time, too, now that I am redundant, untied, basically off the tether, a free spirit winging her way through the universe, in search of a new life, I mean lifestyle. It is just what I needed on this misty, autumnal morning, for it is the website of none other than my fellow North Londoner, lifestyle mom Gwyneth Paltrow. And here is what she says.

No, sorry. Here is not what she says. You can’t select any of the text, and to be honest my time is too precious to sit here clicking from page to page, painfully typing out her words. It is passing strange, this website, as an artefact. (Apologies; I can’t say “as an object,” because it isn’t, is it.)

One thing I am thinking hard about at the moment is websites. I have to make one, and it has to be a pretty professional, well-made website. It has to do what I need it to do, and – if I want clients – it also has to do what people want it to do when they use it.

That means, first give them the information they crave. I’ve been thinking about that information long and hard. Forms of words. Types of words. Types of information. Types of clients. How to pare it down and make it really clean and good. Gwynnie seems to have this element all sewn up. Just as I plan to do, she has several little icons all in a row, clickable links. Mine will be along the lines of “copywriting,” “journalism,” “blogging” etc. Or something. Each one will lead to a page telling you all about my activities in that area, showing you what I’m capable of producing for you should you wish it, and how you can contact me to talk about your project.

So, click on Gwynnie’s six adorable little silhouette icons: cutlery, bicycle, top on a hanger, playground slide, butterfly, binoculars. What do they say? They say make, go, get, do, be, see.

Awww…

But before you start clucking too much, here is the genius. Not only are they written in babytalk, they all click through to the same page! This page contains three short paragraphs – eleven lines altogether, one of which only contains three words (“and feel nice”) – laying out the very attractive lifestyle philosophy that underpins this website.

Venture. Whatever it is. But we’ll come to that in a moment.

This page contains the wonderful sentence: “I want to nourish what is real, and I want to do it without wasting time.” And there, ladies and gentlemen, we have it. The nugget. The radioactive particle. See how the two clauses that make up that sentence – “I want to nourish what is real” and “I want to do it without wasting time” – come from two different universes? They demand to be spoken with two discrete sets of facial muscles. And it is the second one that has made this website.

Aside from this, there is only one other element on the website. With a charming cutout of a pen, it asks you twice (“get more scoop from GOOP” and “sign up for the newsletter”) to sign up for the newsletter. (Yes, of course I clicked on both! I wanted more scoop.) It has a logo, the acronym GOOP (“Gwyneth Osmosis Ommm Paltrow?”), a strapline (“nourish the inner aspect”) and her signature.

Except that it can’t possibly be her real signature: firstly, the identity thieves would be away with it, and secondly, it has been constructed using a handwriting font.

For some reason someone has thought we might either be fooled, or not care. But this is the peril of the website. Because for it to work, we have to believe that it is real. Its Gwyneth messing about at home, talking to us like her girlfriends. When in fact it has clearly been cynically created, seamlessly impervious as a sheet of bulletproof plastic, by a PR firm.

Oh, and the three paragraphs? They essentially don’t contain a single concrete noun. “London” and “Austin” are as close as it gets, but they are proper nouns, and anyway are used as exemplars, place-holders, and are thus abstractified. I also just ran the text (okay, so I copied it out. It was easy once I had a good reason) through a couple of tests, and it comes out at a 3rd or 4th grade reading level. (For non-USA readers, this means you’re 8 or 9.)

I’m not sure Gwyneth Paltrow would even know how to write the brief for these three paragraphs, so sophisticated and sinister are they. They have been written by someone very highly-paid – though maybe not quite as much so as Gwynnie…

Back to the web user’s perspective, let us consider afresh what it might mean that you aren’t allowed to select or copy any of the scant text. It means she doesn’t want you to have it. It’s hers. NOT yours, however much she want to look like she’s sharing. (You also can’t drag it as an image.) I wonder why the logo isn’t hyperlinked back to the “homepage” (I use scare quotes because, well, it may be home but you also never leave it) – nor is there any other link, like a button saying “back”.

Every time I clicked on one of the little cutouts, and found it to be the same, and wanted to go back to the start and try another one, I ended up back on the blog I’d found the link on in the first place. (Thanks, Ms R! And readers, you must go read her post, for it contains news of the Paltrow infant’s first word.) Furthermore, nor is there a contact us, or a webmaster, or any other bit of info. It exists purely as what you can see. (And as what you can’t. Wallace Stevens was so right. The thing you can’t – yet, and never will if you don’t sign up – is the slurry of advertising matter you will receive in your email if you do sign up.)

There must be a reason, because for all its apparent limpidity (limpness and quiddity, in case you wondered: transparent is the one thing this website is not) there is nothing accidental about this website.

In fact, I bow before it. Will mine be as fine as this? Will I achieve a lifestyle so pretty, and so empty – yet so full of words with three letters or less? Can I have a logo and a strapline?

KEEP IT REAL, BABY!

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One Response to “GOOP: a lesson in branding for eight-year-olds”

  1. […] that makes no sense outside your own website. Gwyneth Paltrow’s (obviously PR-company-driven) lifestyle website is called GOOP, and is written – as I pointed out when it was started – at an […]

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