Multi-marketing Confessions

“Religiosity” is complex; Someone’s religion can be packed with many different components: some admirable, some banal, some sloppy, some slimy and some deplorable. Religious folks who sell their wares have a ‘slimy’ component.  But religion does not have a monopoly on that slimy selling trait.

I have already confessed my slimy religious proselytizing days. Today I will confess my similar embarrassing sales activities on the secular level known variously as: multi-level marketing (MLM), pyramid schemes or network marketing.

I have tried multi-level marketing an unbelievable three times in my life: Twice in my 30’s, first with a ‘anti-aging’ skin product line (NuSkin) and later with a ‘tonifying/detoxing’ herbal-nutritional product (I forgot the name) and once in my 40s with a fiber product (BioLife).

Each time, I was introduced to the products by charismatic people who I trusted and liked. And each of my attempts at quick riches met with short-lived failure.  Here are a few reasons why I may have failed:

  • I just could not bring myself to convince others of the value of my product.
  • I did not totally believe in the product myself
  • I realized that I was selling for my own benefit, not for the customer, though that is how I presented the scheme
  • I lacked a good sales personality

Perhaps all of these played a roll — who knows.  But in each, I only lasted a few months before abandoning my big dreams and failed rationalizations. I hope all the friends and acquaintances I tried to sell have forgotten my foolishness or at least forgiven me!  🙂

Fun questions for readers:

  1. Argh, this post has brought back nauseating, guilty memories. Please assuage my conscience: tell me your attempts at multi-level marketing.
  2. Are the religious parallels clear?  Have I convinced you that proselytizing is deeper than just religion?
  3. Do you think that former religious folks are more prone to this trait than natural life-long atheists?

My related posts:

  • Your Modular God: see how “God” gets packed with similar things that non-religious folks use too.
  • My Confessions:  other embarrassing adventures.

Other Sites:


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

30 responses to “Multi-marketing Confessions

  1. My parents got involved with selling a detox/cleansing liquid called KM (I’m guessing it contained potassium manganate, can’t quite remember). Tasted like absolute crap (when they couldn’t sell it, of course we were made to drink it). Probably still have a couple cases of it in the garage.

  2. Yeah, getting rid of the stock is embarrassing too.

  3. My first exposure too a MLM was after I knew what a pyramid scheme was, so I wasn’t taken in. After all, the guys on the bottom lose out.

    Absolutely on lifelong atheists.. I waded through all sorts of muck to get to the place I am now. Crazy how purging one gullibility doesn’t confer immunity from other craziness.

  4. Interesting post, Sabio – I’ve never put MLM and religion in the same thought.

    I’ve had numerous friends try and get me involved in MLM back in my 20’s. I once had a friend’s father actually buy me into a phone card business that never panned out. Those infomercials with the likes of Don Lapre take me back. Quixtar was another popular fad.

    I suppose MLM is easier to expose as a fraud when physical results are never seen. Religion, unfortunately, is an intangible that often preys on emotional investment.

  5. Earnest

    I recall being recruited to walk door to door asking old people in Michigan for money to support pro-union lobbying. I quit after a single day.

    I think any product I sell needs to sell itself, as clearly I have limited capacity to add imaginary value to a transaction. And I do think the more religious of us have more capacity to sell imaginary wares.

  6. Earnest

    @ JB: I drank that KM stuff too! One of my martial arts instructors made everybody in the dojo buy a bottle. It did taste like crap & made my heart beat weird, I guess I’m lucky it didn’t make my heart stop from potassium poisoning!

  7. jfinite

    lol, yeah it was horrible!

  8. TWF

    Yeah, I did the MLM thing too, but with Amway and only once. In a way, I treasure that experience because it clarified and ossified many of the things I only vaguely knew about myself.

    But it was/is embarrassing. I gave presentations to people I worked with, about 3-4 without a single blip of interest. That effectively ended the presentations for me, but I stayed as a member for several months and even went to a conference.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of the MLM conferences, but if the link between religiosity and MLM’s wasn’t obvious before, it was certainly obvious then.

    Anyway, it turns out that I am not really that motivated by money. I didn’t have that much of a problem with my job. Furthermore, the prospect of the sales-channeling business just seemed so… hollow to me after getting to see the inside of it. I had my suspicions of this at the outset, and was thinking that this would be more of an experiment overall.

    Curiously, my older sister and her husband were the gung-ho ones who got me to give it a try. They stuck in it far, far longer. They have since become hyper religious in the modern-traditional sense. In fact, the husband would be a pastor now if he had received more approving votes from the church council.

    And here I am, an atheist. Funny how it all worked out, huh?

  9. The Vicar

    I’d love to commiserate, but I’ve managed to steer clear of MLM businesses. In the interests of helping expose the guilty, the most recent and pushiest one to try to recruit me was Primerica. They’re a classic pyramid scheme: they offer a “pruduct” (mortgage refinancing and financial services) which is not utterly valueless, but they won’t tell you that you can usually get something vastly better elsewhere, and it’s more profitable for their reps to recruit other reps than to actually sell services.

    Actually, the thing which tipped me off was the way the “recruiter” kept telling me, any time I hesitated in any way on the phone, that it was owned by Citigroup (which is apparently no longer the case, by the way) and traded on the NYSE and therefore MUST be legit. I kept thinking “Wasn’t Enron on the NYSE, up until they imploded? And isn’t Citigroup the most horribly unethical of the big financial services companies?”

    (Incidentally, although they are not an MLM company, Direct Energy uses effectively the same tactics as Primerica. They will tell you that a fixed electricity rate will save you money over the long term, but they won’t tell you that their fixed rate is higher than the average of the variable rates used by most power companies. It has also been suggested that Direct Energy engages in the electric bill equivalent of “slamming”, that their representatives will misrepresent themselves as officials of your current power company to get their hands on your billing information, and that they give fraudulent meter readings to jack up customer bills after a few months. They’re being investigated by multiple states now. Off-topic, but it’s another company best avoided.)

  10. Nicole Marie Story

    I drank all of the product.
    Go figure. 😉

  11. My dad got sucked into Amway back in the 70’s. Back when you actually had to sell some soap in addition to just recruiting. Now they play off “you don’t have to sell anything, just use the products yourself”. But of course you do have to sell something, you have to sell their MLM scheme, over and over, because the attrition rate is colossal.

    I remember seeing their magazines, full of photos of a few happy shiny rich people at the top of the pyramid. What they never showed was all the suckers down at the bottom of the pyramid who were spending the money that supported those few at the top. And they always forgot to mention that for you to stay rich, you had to keep selling this impossible dream of being rich to many many people who were not making any money, and were never going to. Which meant that you had to find that many people who had not already been burned by this sort of thing in the past. Eventually you run out of people to be the bottom of the pyramid.

  12. Hrm, sounds like a good research project. Just from my anecdotal experience, my religious friends have been the most active in multi-level marketing.

    I’m a lifelong atheist, and I’ve never tried to sell any MLM. During my youth, I remember my father equally lambasting religion, Amway and Shaklee (remember Shaklee? My religious grandma tried selling that stuff. She’s also quite religious). Since I was brought up that way, I can’t lay claim to any great self awareness, I just had parents that warned me to stay away from that stuff.

  13. @ all:

    Thanx for all the stories! 🙂

    It seems like several of you agree my self-incriminating suspicion that those with religious tendencies are more prone to MLM adventures. Of course it would be only a sub-set, and that subset would only help illuminate one of the many modules mustered into religious constellations. But it seems embarrassingly possible.

    In plain language: those of you who have never tried or been deeply tempted my MLM probably would feel that only idiots wave their hands in the air praise a god. Meanwhile, I contend, we aren’t idiots, we are just more imaginative ! 🙂

  14. Presently, my mother-in-law is involved in selling what is, so far as I can tell (it’s all in poorly translated English) a cactus juice which is purported (from what I can tell from the illustrations in the documents that detail the product further – this only in Chinese) to prevent cancers (cure cancers?) among other things (again, I can’t be sure, but I think it’s saying it’s efffective against AIDS).

    It’s ok, so far as I’m concerned since it is, at worst, only juice – expensive juice, mind you. At best, it might have a placebo affect, I suppose. But she is rather evangelical about it and in a way that is slightly irritating. I know that (even though it would be coming from a place of good intentions) were someone near or dear to me to be diagnosed with cancer and she tried to tell me that what they need is some cactus juice, I don’t think I’d take kindly to it.

    That’s my only brush with MLM!

  15. Right, James, and from your story of your mother-in-law, the parallels to religiousity thinking is obvious, I think.

  16. susan

    You are all perpetuating every negative (and wrong) stereotype about Network Marketing. I’m a lifelong atheist and in this profession. It’s merely a sales and distribution model, not a pyramid scheme. Those are illegal and no goods or services change hands. NM is a brilliant business model, Warren Buffett owns 2 NM companies and calls them the best investment he’s ever made. So does Richard Branson and Donald Trump, and it’s endorsed by Suzy Orman and major economists. In my company people at any level can earn more than those above them. And because you didn’t succeed doesn’t mean the whole profession is a scam any more than any other profession should be dismissed because some people aren’t successful in it – there are slimy lawyers, should we dismiss the profession? And not all companies are created equal, but that doesn’t mean the model is a scam. I work for an incredibly credible and ethical brand. Educate yourselves and speak from a place of understanding before you spread this nonsense. You all sound like you’re drinking the same Kool-Aid!

  17. @ susan,
    How did you find this post?
    I still think it is a pyramid. The groups I was in, you had to consume/buy the product and the people above you benefitted from that. When the market gets saturated, the people below have almost no one under them — that is a pyramid.

  18. Earnest

    @ Susan: in conventional marketing, territory is divided up into regions that each salesperson is supposed to be able to handle. More people are brought in when it becomes obvious that business volume requires a larger sales force. MLM does not do this. The bottom tier is supposed to go around making clients where there are none. Sounds to me more like evangelism rather than product and service analysis for a discerning client.

  19. Earnest

    Here’s a test for the proponent(s) of MLM: can the product be sold on Ebay? My wife unloaded her unsold Mary Kay products at a little below cost on Ebay. If the product will not sell there, I accuse the seller of evangelism.

  20. susan

    Sabio, all corporations are triangles, CEO at the top, Pres, VPs, Directors, Managers on down. All the money is at the top and trickles down to the low level staff. That is a pyramid. Is that what you mean? When you buy products at the store, do you not think the people before you got paid from that? The retailer, wholesaler, manufacturer? Earnest, in Direct Sales you have no territories, it’s better than the standard sales model, and you own your own business. So I can generate sales for my business, and I can also hire a sales force of entrepreneurs of my own to do the same to increase my income. There is no cap on my earnings. What happens is that people think there is no actual ‘work’ involved in building their business, and when they fail, they blame the business model. You guys remind me of this guy.. I find it fascinating that people who I consider ‘like minded’ (are we all atheists here?) would perpetuate such outdated stereotypes of something they obviously don’t understand. I like to think we’re more open minded, and base our opinions on facts and reality and not myth and legend or the experiences of people who failed in a business so it must be a religion?? So if someone gets a college degree and can’t find a job, was their education a religion too? Wow. That’s a stretch!

  21. @ susan
    I already mentioned the aspects I find suspect — you didn’t address them.

    Then you use logical fallacies saying:

    Wow, atheists who don’t agree with me. You should be open minded.

    Rhetoric will not win the day here. Go sell your wares elsewhere.

    Your comments have done nothing but made me feel good about this post. Nicely done.

  22. Is your ability to make a profit dependent on your having a sales force? If the answer is no, that you can make money simply by selling your product, then I don’t see it as being a pyramid scam. I have a friend who makes extra money by selling Tupperware. It’s a product that lots of people use, and she can earn income even if she never sponsors anyone into the business. Not a scam.

    Another friend tried to rope me into the online version of Amway. Their approach – just use the (way overpriced) products yourself, and then recruit others to do the same. You make all your profit from the people you have recruited. This generates no money from outside your downline. The people at the bottom must have outside income to produce the money going to the people at the top, until they too sponsor others into the business. Eventually you reach market saturation, and so the people at the bottom are working jobs that support the people at the top, and the bottom tier will never be generating a profit for themselves. Pyramid scam, all the way.

    Then there’s the ones where it’s focused on selling some health fad or miracle product. Things like acai juice or melaleuca oil. Then, to make sales, you have to actively evangelize the effectiveness of the product. So you either have to become a pitchman for the latest woo, or recruit and train pitchmen for the latest woo. Also a scam. (My friend who sells Tupperware does not have to convince me that it will cure anything or that it’s a miracle product.)

    The best way to make money from MLM? Own the company that manufactures the products.

  23. Fantastic points, ubi dubium! Thanx.

  24. susan

    Ubi, consider asking “Is your ability to make a profit dependent on selling products or services?” If the answer is yes, it’s a legitimate business, if it’s no, it’s a scam. Amway and Tupperware are the same business model, it doesn’t change based on what the products are. If you don’t like the products, or think they’re snake oil, it doesn’t make the model less legit, you just don’t buy them, just like you wouldn’t buy them at a retail store if you didn’t trust or believe in them. A retail store can sell crappy products, but it doesn’t mean retail is a scam does it?

  25. Susan, you are being massively dishonest in your response. Ubi already addressed how Amway and Tupperware are different from a naive perspective: Tupperware is a product line that people actually want, so it is possible to turn a profit by sales alone, where Amway is only profitable through recruiting suckers to give you money. This ignores any technical differences in their structure, which almost certainly exist. Amway, being focussed on recruitment rather than providing useful products, will have a carefully-crafted agreement for their suckers designed by lawyers to be exactly as harmful to consumers as possible while technically not being against the law, because they need to have such a thing in order to make money. Tupperware won’t sail anywhere near as close to the wind, because they don’t need to.

    More to the point, however, a retail store is a very different thing than an MLM scheme. Retail does not attempt to rope you into obligations in advance.

    It would be extremely interesting to read a disclosure statement about your employment and finances. From the way you’re writing, and the fact that you resurrected this old thread, you almost certainly are either employed by one of these MLM outfits directly or you’re a victim desperately trying to pretend that buying thousands of dollars of crummy, unusable product to get in to the scam was not a poor decision. Either way, you aren’t convincing in the slightest.

  26. susan

    So many assumptions, so little information. Peace out.

  27. My father was heavily involved in Amway in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and I watched him train to “sell the plan” and saw all the motivational material they pushed on him. It was like indoctrination into a religion. He spent hours listening to their taped “sermons” about dreams of wealth and belief in their system. I helped him sell soap to all our friends. And I had bottles of leftover stuff under my sink for years afterward. A couple of years back, when some friends tried to drag me into it, the basic structure had not changed. They had added internet sales, and tried to claim you could do it all without selling to anybody else, but the rest of the pitch was idenitical.

    Many of the other commenters here also have direct or indirect experience with MLM. Not “so little” information, and not assumptions. “Too much” information is more like it.

  28. @susan:

    Yeah, sure, you just dredged up a four-and-a-half-month-old thread to post pro-MLM propaganda because you’ve just dispassionately decided that MLM is legitimate and want to convince everyone. Uh huh. Pull the other one.

  29. @ the Vicar & Dubium,
    Thanx for jumping in. It is odd that she dug up this thread and why she put so much missionary effort into it. Her closings are tell tale of reasoning and rhetoric styles. Glad you all were still following this old thread.
    But let it be know — “No Thread is ‘Old’ on Triangulations!”

  30. During my Christian years while very sick I was introduced to Tahition Noni Juice. I did have positive results from personal use. This made those around me inquire and before you know it the person who introduced me to it said I could sell it. I wasn’t interested and countered with the degree of illness I had and needing to focus on it. But like evangelism the subtle constant pressure to not only help (save) myself but also help (save) the whole world was relentless. Hints of great joy at the success of the juice and how it could change the whole world while at the same time hints of guilt and selfishness if you didn’t share the success.

    Then there was the price. I don’t do well taking anyone’s money.

    A few meetings, travelling to and from meetings with others and then a major conference sealed the deal for me. First of all I was too sick to be meandering all over the place trying to sell the juice. Secondly I was being used now as a testimony but not by me. Only by those way above me and well, honestly the rich ones who were working higher up and making lots of money. If I recall though and my memory may not serve me correctly here, I think it was an upside down pyramid so it was not considered a pyramid?

    Last but not least it appeared to be a cult and I stopped selling, though I never actually went out to sell, people came to me because news got around that I was drinking this juice and it was helping me. I drank the juice for a year and a half and just as suddenly as it had helped me it stopped. That was the end of Noni juice for me.

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