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Netflix’s ‘The Goop Lab’ is branded content—and maybe the future of media

Gwenyth Paltrow’s company joins the New York Times, Vox Media, and BuzzFeed on a screen near you.

Netflix’s ‘The Goop Lab’ is branded content—and maybe the future of media

In the trailer for the new Netflix show The Goop Lab, which launches on the streamer today, we see star and company founder Gwyneth Paltrow laughing with colleagues in the Goop offices. As footage of Goop head of content Elise Loehnen meditating and getting facial acupuncture rolls, she says, “What we try to do at Goop is to explore ideas that may seem out there or too scary.”

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Paltrow is then heard asking her team, “Are you guys ready to go out into the field and make a ruckus?” Later, in a boardroom, she says, “We’re here one time, one life, how can we really milk the shit out of this?”

It’s a question that applies equally to both any individual and also Goop itself and this very show.

Branded video masquerading as prestige TV

Each episode of The Goop Lab features company staffers checking out a variety of wellness fads, tools, techniques, and teachings. My colleague KC Ifeanyi describes it as “like a deep dive into a Goop article with emotional narratives woven throughout.” As Loehnen told Ifeanyi, “I know that the people who are big fans of the brand will love the show and feel like they’re able to go a little bit deeper on some of these topics that they’re already familiar with,” she said. “But my hope for the show is that for all the people who have heard of us through some big media moment that’s probably not that emblematic of who we really are as a brand [will think about us differently]. It might inspire them to examine their own triggers.”

The Goop Lab, then, isn’t just about entertaining and informing us on, say, using magic mushrooms to manage anxiety, but more broadly it’s a brand marketing play for Goop itself.

Here Goop joins a growing list of media brands, including BuzzFeed, Vox Media, and the New York Times, which have been branching out into broadcast and streaming TV to promote and expand their particular brand of content creation while simultaneously providing platforms like Netflix an immediately credible, recognizable name and reputation to tie in new programming content.

For some, it appears to have succeeded. In her review on Vulture, Jen Chaney writes, “There are moments when the show can come across like an extended Goop recruitment video. . . . To a far greater extent than I imagined, The Goop Lab actually makes it possible to be slightly less cynical about Goop.”

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Vice started it

It’s a move pioneered by Vice, when it went from launching its web video division VBS in 2007, with Spike Jonze as a creative director, to an award-winning HBO show, which undoubtedly went a long way in pushing that company’s brand image from reckless hipsters to the point that it can claim a $3.6 billion valuation with a straight face.

More recently, BuzzFeed got in the game with its Netflix show Follow This, which launched in August 2018, a series that put viewers inside the reporting process of writers such as Scaachi Koul, Charlie Warzel, and Bim Adewunmi.

The New York Times launched its first TV news show on FX and Hulu in June 2019. The Weekly is a docuseries that follows Times journalists as they track down and tell compelling stories. But as the Hollywood Reporter pointed out in its review, “The Weekly doesn’t showcase these mini-documentaries to elucidate the newspaper’s grimmest stories. Instead, it merely advertises their articles, offering abridged facsimiles intended to entice you with small details and big feelings, then beg you to check out the full report.” Or as Variety put it, “It’s meta-meta-journalism—reporting on and about the process of Times reporters, in which the ultimate story is not how those reporters arrive at what they finally produce but the institutional reputation of the Times at large.”

The Weekly feels like an elaborate extension of the award-winning ad campaign “The Truth Is Hard,” created by ad agency Droga5, illustrating the lengths to which Times reporters go to get the stories we read.

The perils of meta-meta reality TV

But it’s a strategy that can backfire, as witnessed just this past week when The Weekly turned the Grey Lady’s Democratic presidential nomination endorsement into a reality show-style spectacle. Among many trenchant takes, Slate’s Ashley Feinberg’s stood out: “The promised inside look at how the Times made one of its most ostensibly important decisions of the year turned out to mean viewers spent an hour watching the paper crumble under the weight of its own self-importance.”

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Shadow branding is the ultimate flex

Vox Media’s Vox Media Studios has a handful of programming with multiple broadcasting partners, including Explained on Netflix, American Style on CNN, and RetroTech on YouTube. It also acquired Epic Magazine, which is behind Apple TV’s Little America. The difference between these and shows such as The Goop Lab, Follow This, and The Weekly is that none are Vox branded shows.

Vox has decided to act more like a traditional production company and create shows that will later be labeled an original by CNN, YouTube, and Netflix. Last year, Vox Media Studios’ head of entertainment, Chad Mumm, told Digiday that the company was aiming to go beyond single shows and into broader production deals, not unlike those inked by creators such as Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy. The company succeeded in that, with deals such as the multiyear agreement with Hulu for original food-related programming. According to a source familiar with Vox Media Studios, the company will have 27 full-time production and development employees overseeing more than 14 shows, and production has essentially doubled in the last year. The unit is already poised to make twice as many shows this year as they did in 2019.

Whether Gwyneth can charm you enough with The Goop Lab to make you forget about that vagina-scented candle, given the demand for presold creators and content among streamers and broadcasters—and its potential for revenue diversification for publishers—don’t expect the digital media extension into TV to slow down anytime soon.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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