01 May 2013

The dark pit of MLMs

I have a friend, whom I'll call Robocop for privacy purposes, who some time ago got pulled into an MLM. It seemed pretty innocuous at first, but as time has gone on I've been reminded more and more why I really, really hate MLMs – it's no exaggeration to say that they destroy lives.

So the MLM that Robocop has gotten into sells what I'll call Product X. Product X, so the claims go, is not like similar products you can find for significantly less money in the store; rather, it has a myriad of health benefits that might range from lifting your mood and helping mental focus to putting cancer in remission. As with most such products, a search through Google Scholar will reveal a paucity of data supporting such grandiose claims.

Then there are the promises of wealth. Robocop has heard one pitch after another telling him about the high life he'll live as a successful entrepreneur. There are pamphlets with pictures of big mansions and expensive sports cars, all with the clear message that this is the lifestyle you can live by selling Product X.

But then comes a problem – after you've made your investment in Product X and you have a stash in your house, to whom are you supposed to sell it? Remember, it's "not available in stores". So instead, you sell it to friends... friends who quickly get annoyed with you pushing your overpriced miracle product on them. It's worse than that, though – part of the idea behind MLMs is that you, to use the exact words this company used with my friend, "build a sales team". That means that you get cash for signing up other people who will theoretically sell this product.

In the case of Product X, Robocop insisted it wasn't technically an MLM for reasons I can't recall. But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it's a fucking duck. And this duck has quacked its way into Robocop's personal life in big ways. Recently, Robocop invited me and my girlfriend over for dinner. However, it wasn't just going to be dinner – it was also going to be a sales pitch. It's to the point now that whenever Robocop calls or texts me or invites me to some party at the Detroit police station, it's inevitably laced with some spiel about Product X.

Understandably to the rest of us, Robocop's friends are a bit put off by the whole thing. They just want to hang out with their friend without getting roped into some MLM. But Robocop isn't taking it very well, as evidenced by Facebook posts that include being upset that his friends won't "take an hour of their time to support my business" (i.e., come to the events that are more than obviously designed to rope you into an MLM), and complaining that people are being negative. These are laced with threats of cutting certain people out of his life entirely, and are inevitably followed with comments from his new friends in the MLM saying that he has a "new family".

Promises of riches, cutting out friends and joining a new "family"... sounds vaguely cultish to me. Perhaps what I find most interesting about MLMs is that nobody ever really buys the product. Instead, you make money by signing other people up as your "sales associates" or whatever bullshit term they have for it. Sure, you might sell some of the product, but it's highly unlikely for it to be your sole source of income. Eventually, the bottom drops out – you have an unsold stockpile of Product X in your pantry, and you've run out of people to make into "sales associates". You're left with no money and a bunch of ticked-off friends. MLMs are scams, full stop, and they really do destroy lives.


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