Gwyneth Paltrow’s “GOOP-ey” Settlement
by Ian Morris, Of-Counsel Attorney
Making fun of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, Goop, is easy. Among the vague but luxurious sounding advice the brand websites promotes a wide assortment of products, from dust as a smoothie additive (not a dietary supplement, not a bath salt, not a proprietary formula, but dust which if I remember high school biology is predominantly dead skin cells) to eggs (and not the kind to be eaten btw). To me, this is yin to the alt right yang of shilling testosterone supplements and gold bullion. Both formats rely on existential fears and extraordinary claims to market to their respective audiences and while some claims have crossed the line into false advertising, this month’s settlement with Goop is unsurprising in that is occurred but perhaps there is a golden egg delivered in the California court decision.
This month the California Food, Drug, and Medical Device Task Force announced a settlement with Goop regarding its misleading representation of three products; a Jade Egg, a Rose Quartz Egg and an Inner Judge Flower Essence Blend. The essence blend promises to clear guilt, shame, self-criticism and blame, this is a clever considering that the snake oil actually claims to cure snake oil buyer regret. This means that the consumer is free to purchase, guilt free. The eggs, however are where the story gets juicy (sorry). These products encourage women to insert solid stone eggs into their vaginas in what Goop claims will allow them to “get better connected to the power within.” The jade egg promises to promote sexual energy and pleasure while the rose quartz will focus your positive energy and love. Now removed, a page on the Goop website promoted these eggs as a way to “increase vaginal muscle tone, hormonal balance, and feminine energy in general.” Of course there is no grounding in science to defend these claims, of course they are facially misleading, and of course the claims were unsubstantiated by any competent and reliable scientific evidence. This isn’t the interesting part, this is the yin and yang expressed above, this is the PT Barnum path to success, this is actually quite normal.
What shocks me the most is the defense used by Goop, now undoubtedly familiar with false advertising claims, and the California court treatment of this defense. The Goop defense was that they were not directly making the claims but that the wonders of vagina eggs were just the subjective experience shared by many happy purchasers on Goop forums and that similar ‘experts’ shared experiences as guest editors and bloggers to the site, therefore Goop wasn’t making these claims. This is an interesting strategy but for a variety of reasons I am not sure how it survived the brainstorming phase. Particularly in light of the Goop website publication of articles like “Jade Eggs for Your Yoni” and “12 (More) Reasons to Start a Jade Egg Practice”, both of which address criticism by claiming the purportedly ancient practice is ahead of modern medicine and those critical of the practice are sexually shaming respectively. It doesn’t bolster the defense in that the first article was a guest post by “beauty guru/healer/inspiration/friend Shiva Rose” who goes on to instruct owners to recharge jade eggs drained of their ‘energy’ in the same manner as one would a crystal, duh. However, it is the blog posts by happy customers and well-meaning guest gurus that really get us to our golden egg.
When a site promotes a product, statements by users and others about the purported benefits can be considered advertisements of the products themselves and thus should never be used to support claims that are not otherwise supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. The settlement was deliberately unclear as to when this third party testimony rises to advertisements but it is a valuable lesson for marketers and brands alike. You cannot hide behind the false claims of others to support otherwise unfounded claims about your product, particularly when this testimony is presented on your website where you also sell these products.
The good news is a civil penalty of $145,000 was set aside to refund purchasers and at $66 dollars each, means many buyers can recover. Shame or embarrassment over the purchase shouldn’t be an issue, after all this is what the Inner Judge Flower Essence Blend is for. Alternatively, if you are sold or have already huffed enough Essence Blend, then perhaps try one yourself. The Jade Eggs are still being offered on Goop.