Why Network Marketing Bothers Me

The couple seems nice enough. They are certainly good looking, fun, confident and personable. Plus, they want to help me change my life (yours too, if you’ll let ‘em).

They are out to sell the American dream. Yes, I too can become a millionaire just like them. It’ll be hard work – but, they believe in me.

And you.

The first step on my way to riches will be to sign-up to be one of their partners. Something about joining their “sphere of influence”. They said hundreds are already in this trusted circle and I’ll be a part of something special. Cool.

The cost: Only $150 to start. Not a bad investment on my way to becoming a zillionaire.

“We’ll also need you to purchase $75 worth of products every month.”

Oh.

“Don’t worry, you’ll use them up.”

Okay. But, I’m already a little tight, budget-wise.

“Well, you could purchase all this from a store every month – OR you can buy from your partners – your friends – and let them reap the benefits of your purchase.”

I see. Yeah, that seems like a helpful thing to do.

“You’re on your way Aaron. You’re going to fulfill your destiny – and we’ll be there to help you along the way.”

You guys are great. I want to be just like you.

“You’ll get there. Now, do you know any others who may want to be a part of this special journey too?”

Well, I…

“Perhaps I can have a look at your address book?”

My beef with network marketing

The scenario didn’t exactly go this way – but I’m sure something like it has been played out thousands of times over the course of American history.

It’s the marvel of network marketing (or, multi-level marketing, or….). And, millions jump on board every year.

I have nothing against making money. Or selling for that matter. We do it here at the site. In fact, we employ something called, affiliate marketing. Whereby, we recommend a product that we’ve used (and had success with) and then receive a commission if you or other readers purchase that product / service (Even this marketing has its issues if taken to an extreme).

But there is something yucky (if I can use that term) about network marketing. Is it just me?

Whenever I’ve been approached by folks who’ve signed on to sell / market products in this sphere, I feel a bit put-off. What is it?

After seeing something in Facebook over the past week from a “top-tier” network marketer, something in me said, “this is gross”.

Perhaps it was some jealously. I’ll admit – this person is doing quite well. Looks good, has all the “attributes” of a “successful” person: large home, car, lots of moola and is quite smiley. Boy, does he smile. It’s hard not to compare oneself to someone who seems to “have it all”.

He must be happy, right?

And how did they get there? Selling to others and then having those folks sell to more. Of course (they say), this is something that I can attain too. I just gotta sign-up my family first, then my friends and acquaintances – and then my friend’s friends, and my acquaintance’s, acquaintances.

Easy enough.

I guess one of the things that irks me most is many who employ network marketing are somewhat sneaky about how they sell to you. And often, they are trying to sell you something beyond what they’re selling: “a better life”, or to “fulfill your destiny”.

But in some sense, a lot of marketing attempts to do that.

What happened to the old days when they’d just straight-up sell to you?

Advertisement from the 1920s.

And, while I’m on a roll (rant) here, I’d like to list a few other things I dislike about network marketing:

  • They haven’t created anything of value to sell. Sellers are just hawking something that has been created for them. So unlike someone who has an idea and then creates it with their own sweat equity and offers it to the market, networking marketing is (usually) offering something pre-made.
  • Not educated in what they’re selling. Many people don’t have any specific certification or extensive training to understand what they’re selling, and how to assess if it is a good/safe idea for their end user or not (i.e. health/wellness products).
  • Uplines make a killing. The further up the chain you are, the more money you make. This could be similar to how it works in America (CEO makes the moola) – something about this feels odd.
  • Cult-like cultures. Many network marketing companies have a cult-like feel to ’em. And, if you ever speak ill about their practices or call them out on something, they can get very defensive (what are they hiding?). I’ve read about bloggers getting sued by MLM companies because they’ve called them out. If your product or service is good / truthful (and operating under generally accepted good business practices) it should be able to withstand criticism.
  • Many are just pyramid-schemes. More here.

Interesting video here from John Oliver (though, there are some cuss words):

Not all bad apples

Now, you may be reading this and thinking, “my friend is in network marketing and I love buying from him”. OR “I’m involved in network marketing and love it!” Great!

I personally don’t like the whole practice of network marketing, multi-level marketing and so, it’s not you, it’s me.   If you’ve found you can genuinely engage in it and not feel any tinge of guilt about it – go get ’em!

I’m sure there are many who are just involved in it intermittently and don’t really make much off it (I would say this is the vast majority of people as the system requires this to happen so the top tiers can make their $$). And there are others who are involved in it and are upfront with others about what they are doing / how they are selling.

And, quite possibly – the products being sold are decent!

All this to say, network marketing isn’t for me. And, I think there are other – more genuine – ways to make a buck or two in America.

Love to hear your thoughts on this too – and if you’ve ever been involved OR are involved in network marketing.

Update 11/1/17: Quartz ran an interesting piece on side-effects of being involved in an MLM company can lead to debt and psychological crisis.

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4 comments

  1. A-men! It seems like these are constantly popping up on my Facebook feed. If I get invited to another lash bash or jam berry or Mary Kay party, I’m going to pull my hair out. People think these are easy ways to “start your own business” and fall for it every time. I know quite a few people who have done MLM and no one has been successful with it.

    • Aaron says:

      You’re right. Some of the stats cited in the John Oliver video are alarming – hardly anyone makes much money from these. The top are all winning off the bottom.

  2. Roger Throm says:

    Yes, these schemes have been around a long time and they are just another sneaky way to hook you and embarrass you if you try to back out. And as for Facebook: annoying to the extreme and a waste of time. Stay far away from it.

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