In Goop We Trust
Recently, late-night TV host Stephen Colbert focused his humor on Goop®, the “modern lifestyle” brand founded by actress Gwenyth Paltrow (shown in the video link below; aka “Pepper Potts” if you are a fan of the Iron Man movies). Presenting a portrait whose "eyes follow your wallet across the room," the host called attention to her “In Goop Health” wellness summit, scheduled for November. It’s a play on words, Colbert explains, “the same way everything Goop sells is a play on something that would be good for you.”
One of the breakout sessions will be “Finding Purpose Through Astrology.” If that sounds like crap to you,” Colbert opines, “you’re such a Taurus.” Paraphrasing one of Gwenyth’s playfully meaningless word salads, Stephen says Paltrow is “recentering your chakral pulse point by synergizing your internal moonscape with your crystal health potential, so as to better focus on the heuristic siphoning of your bank account.”
Need proof? On Amazon.com, you can buy a perfectly fine braided whip for $19, often sold along with handcuffs and riding crops. (If need be, I can produce a receipt.) Goop’s goes for $300, but at least it’s guaranteed to instill a “pleasant sting.”
But Goop’s fame in legal circles arose from misleading advertising and copyright infringement. In 2018, Goop paid a $145,000 settlement regarding their vaginal jade eggs claims. Unsubstantiated statements that the egg increases muscle tone, balances hormones and regulates menstrual cycles ran Goop afoul of a task force composed of prosecutors from ten California counties. Last year, moreover, Goop was accused of another dozen misleading health claims by a nonprofit watchdog. A trademark infringement suit was also filed last year involving one brand adopted by Paltrow.
And don’t get me started on her $135 coffee enema pump. Enema flavors? Why not marble fudge? Major marketing omission: failure to trademark the slogan, “Goop to the last drop.”
IP litigators like me handle trademark and false advertising disputes, both in federal court and state court. Interestingly, while typically the plaintiff has a burden of proof to show that a statement is false or misleading, as in 15 U.S.C. §1125, the 2018 settlement suggests the prosecutors put the shoe on the other foot. They demanded that Goop pay for unsubstantiated claims (even if not proven false). Goop admitted no wrongdoing in making the settlement, and perhaps for good reason. According to a 2019 article, the law on this topic appears to be unsettled. It is not helped by the fact that – no joke – the California false advertising statute begins with a 250- word sentence. Bus. & Prof. Code section 17500. Clearly, an additional period or two wouldn't hurt.
Maybe once the Goop brand stood for tongue-in-cheek fun. But now the cheek is on the other foot. Vulnerable women of privilege with loads of discretionary income and low self-esteem are being preyed on, people! If we can’t stop such oblivious overindulgence, what do we, as a nation, stand for?