Celebrity Lifestyle Gurus
Can Gwyneth Paltrow and Jay-Z build brands that outlive their showbiz careers?
Phil Hall, a former editor of the now-defunct tabloid News of the World and celebrity magazine Hello!, who runs his own PR agency, says celebrities' use of social media is driven in part by a desire to access fans and sidestep journalists. "Celebrities want to take control of their image rather than having newspapers write what they want about them. Social media gives them direct access to thousands or millions of fans."
If Paltrow asked companies to pay to appear on Goop she would lose authenticity.
While Paltrow might never dare discuss her views on homosexuality in a traditional interview, she is happy to do so on Goop because it is on her terms. Moreover, by creating an online profile, a celebrity ensures they have a presence beyond the media cycle of promoting a book or a film.
Her ambitions to become an all-around online lifestyle guru have made Paltrow an early-adopter. It's a long game (her site is currently ad-free), but in the past three months the trend has been gathering pace. In April, hip-hop megastar Jay-Z launched a site called Lifeandtimes.com. It is designed to appeal to men, showcasing high-end cars, fashion, and gadgets. (Paltrow and Jay-Z have already interviewed each other on their sites, to widespread derision from critics.) As well as video of his wife, Beyoncé, the R&B star, rehearsing in her dressing room before singing on American Idol, there are photos he has taken (a sunrise, a pair of 1980s trainers), plus tips from cocktail mixologists and designers.
In May, the German-born model and TV presenter Heidi Klum started a lifestyle site in association with AOL. Highly commercial, it features products (click to buy) and a "Look of the Day"—an update on Klum's outfits—with links showing where to buy them cheaper.
Many more celebrities are likely to follow. A website is relatively cheap to set up, has long-term earnings potential and there is natural appeal for fans. Manhattan-based psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert says: "People feel that if they do what celebrities do then they're that much closer to him or her. Almost as though they're part of an exclusive club."
According to Rita Clifton, chairman of Interbrand, the branding consultancy, "It's gone beyond consumers thinking, 'Here's an attractive person, I'll buy her perfume,' to them wanting the entire lifestyle. For the celebrity it enhances their profile and generates revenue at the same time."
Hall adds, "There is so much information out there with digital media. People have less and less time. They want to cut through the information overload and align themselves with a personality who thinks like them and can make recommendations. We might laugh at well-known people moving into [decorating, cooking, and shopping tips], but for people who are dedicated to a celebrity it can provide a shop window to the world they want to tap into." (Many celebrities, however, employ PR consultants to tweet and blog on their behalf.)
The former tabloid editor suggests the move away from traditional media is likely to be intensified by fallout from the phone hacking scandal at News of the World as consumers lose trust in newspapers.
In societal terms, too, the time is right. According to Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent: "Our ties to community are weaker than previous generations; we move from job to job, therefore there is an increased premium placed on lifestyle. Lifestyle is a self-constructed identity and very unstable. So [experts] offering lifestyle advice have an important role." And, crucially for money-making, the lifestyle advice can be acted on right away using mobile technology.
The path to lifestyle profits via cookery is well-trodden. Martha Stewart, the 69-year-old American business magnate, media personality, author, and magazine publisher, took her first steps to becoming a lifestyle guru in 1982 with her best-selling cookbook, Entertaining. Stewart has in recent years created a wide range of branded products—including housewares for Macy's department stores and, in 2007, a Martha Stewart wine vintage with E & J Gallo winery. This despite serving five months in jail after being found guilty in 2004 of lying to federal investigators about a stock sale.
Michael Stone, co-founder and chief executive of the Beanstalk Group, a brand licensing agency, that helps celebrities including Paris Hilton and Salma Hayek and companies like Ford and AT&T come up with spin-off product lines and marketing, says: "If Martha Stewart was 35, she'd be doing the same thing [as Paltrow]. Stewart had an old-media approach which was very similar—her cookbooks gave her credentials as an entertaining expert which allowed her to morph into a lifestyle expert and produce her own product lines."
A.J. Jacobs is the author of the new book Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection. His previous books include The Know-It-All (about his experience reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica) and The Year of Living Biblically (about his year following all the rules of the Bible). He is the editor at large of Esquire magazine. He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.
Photograph of Jay-Z by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for VEVO.