Ten Big Lies of MLM

More than ten years ago, Robert FitzPatrick wrote “The 10 Big Lies of Multi-Level Marketing.” Robert has studied MLMs and pyramid schemes for decades and is the author of the book False Profits and the head of Pyramid Scheme Alert.

His 10 big lies about MLM are just as valid today as they were when he originally wrote them. It seems nothing ever changes in the world of multi-level marketing (aka pyramid schemes.)

Nearly all of these points applies to Mary Kay, sadly.

  1. MLM is a business offering better opportunities for making large sums of money than all other conventional business and professional models.
  2. Network marketing is the most popular and effective new way to bring products to market. Consumers like to buy products on a one-to-one basis in the MLM model.
  3. Eventually all products will be sold by MLM, a new form of marketing. Retail stores, shopping malls, catalogues and most forms of advertising will soon be rendered obsolete by MLM.
  4. MLM is a new way of life that offers happiness and fulfillment. It is a means to attain all the good things in life.
  5. MLM is a spiritual movement.
  6. Success in MLM is easy. Friends and relatives are the natural prospects. Those who love and support you will become your lifetime customers.
  7. You can do MLM in your spare time. As a business, it offers the greatest flexibility and personal freedom of time. A few hours a week can earn a significant supplemental income and may grow to a very large income making other work unnecessary
  8. MLM is a positive, supportive new business that affirms the human spirit and personal freedom.
  9. MLM is the best option for owning your own business and attaining real economic independence.
  10. MLM is not a pyramid scheme because products are sold.

The discussion of these points by Mr. FitzPatrick is long, but worthwhile.

This research has shown that the MLM business model, as it is practiced by most companies, is a marketplace hoax. In those cases, the business is primarily a scheme to continuously enroll distributors and little product is ever retailed to consumers who are not also enrolled as distributors.

In general, MLM industry claims of distributor income potential, its descriptions of the ‘network’ business model and its prophecies of a reigning destiny in product distribution have as much validity in business as UFO sightings do in the realm of science.

Financially, the odds for an individual to achieve financial success under those circumstances rival the odds of winning at the tables in Las Vegas.

MLM’s economic score card is characterized by massive failure rates and financial losses for millions of consumers. Its structure in which positions on an endless sales chain are purchased by selling or buying goods is mathematically unsustainable and its system of allowing unlimited numbers of distributors in any market area is inherently unstable.

MLM’s espoused core business – personal retailing – is contrary to trends in communication technology, cost-effective distribution, and consumer buying preferences. The retailing activity is, in reality, only a pretext for the actual core business – enrolling investors in pyramid organizations that promise exponential income growth.

As in all pyramid schemes, the incomes of those distributors at the top and the profits to the sponsoring corporations come from a continuous influx of new investors at the bottom. Viewed superficially in terms of company profits and the wealth of an elite group at the pinnacle of the MLM industry, the model can appear viable to the uninformed, just as all pyramid schemes do before they collapse or are exposed by authorities.

Lie #1: MLM is a business offering better opportunities for making large sums of money than all other conventional business and professional models.

Truth: For almost everyone who invests MLM turns out to be a losing financial proposition. This is not an opinion, but a historical fact. Extraordinary sales and marketing obstacles account for much of this failure, but even if the business were more feasible, sheer mathematics would severely limit the opportunity. The MLM type of business structure can support only a small number of financial winners.

Lie #2: Network marketing is the most popular and effective new way to bring products to market. Consumers like to buy products on a one-to-one basis in the MLM model.

Truth: If you strip MLM of its hallmark activity of continuously reselling distributorships and examine its foundation, the one-to-one retailing of products to customers, you encounter an unproductive and impractical system of sales upon which the entire structure is supposed to rest. Personal retailing is a thing of the past, not the wave of the future. Retailing directly to friends on a one-to-one basis requires people to drastically change their buying habits. They must restrict their choices, often pay more for goods, buy inconveniently, and awkwardly engage in business transactions with close friends and relatives. The unfeasibility of door-to-door retailing is why MLM is, in reality, a business that just keeps reselling the opportunity to sign up more distributors.

Lie #3: Eventually all products will be sold by MLM, a new form of marketing. Retail stores, shopping malls, catalogues and most forms of advertising will soon be rendered obsolete by MLM.

Truth: MLM is not new. It has been around since the late 1960’s. Yet, today it still represents less than one percent of US retail sales. In year 2000, total US retail sales were $3.232 trillion, according to the Dept. of Commerce. MLM’s total sales are about $10 billion. That is about 1/3rd of one percent and most of this sales volume is accounted for by the purchases of hopeful new distributors who are actually paying the price of admission to a business they will soon abandon. Not only are MLM sales insignificant in the marketplace, but MLM fails as a sales model also on the other key factor ­ maintaining customers. Most MLM customers quit buying the goods as soon as they quit seeking the “business opportunity.” There is no brand loyalty.

Lie #4: MLM is a new way of life that offers happiness and fulfillment. It is a means to attain all the good things in life.

Truth: The most prominent motivating appeal of the MLM industry as shown in industry literature and presented at recruitment meetings is the crassest form of materialism. Fortune 100 companies would blush at the excess of promises of wealth and luxury put forth by MLM solicitors. These promises are presented as the ticket to personal fulfillment. MLM’s overreaching appeal to wealth and luxury conflicts with most people’s true desire for meaningful and fulfilling work in something in which they have special talent or interest. In short, the culture of this business side tracks many people from their personal values and desires to express their unique talents and aspirations.

Lie #5: MLM is a spiritual movement.

Truth: The use of spiritual concepts like prosperity consciousness and creative visualization to promote MLM enrollment, the use of words like ‘communion’ to describe a sales organization, and claims that MLM is a fulfillment of Christian principles or Scriptural prophecies are great distortions of these spiritual practices. Those who focus their hopes and dreams upon wealth as the answer to their prayers lose sight of genuine spirituality as taught by all the great religions and faiths of humankind. The misuse of these spiritual principles should be a signal that the investment opportunity is deceptive.

Lie #6: Success in MLM is easy. Friends and relatives are the natural prospects. Those who love and support you will become your lifetime customers.

Truth: The commercialization of family and friendship relations or the use of ‘warm leads’ which is required in the MLM marketing program is a destructive element in the community and very unhealthy for individuals involved. Capitalizing upon family ties and loyalties of friendships in order to build a business can destroy ones social foundation. It places stress on relationships that may never return to their original bases of love, loyalty and support. Beyond its destructive social aspects, experience shows that few people enjoy or appreciate being solicited by friends and relatives to buy products.

Lie #7: You can do MLM in your spare time. As a business, it offers the greatest flexibility and personal freedom of time. A few hours a week can earn a significant supplemental income and may grow to a very large income making other work unnecessary

Truth: Decades of experience involving millions of people have proven that making money in MLM requires extraordinary time commitment as well as considerable personal wiliness, persistence and deception. Beyond the sheer hard work and special aptitude required, the business model inherently consumes more areas of ones life and greater segments of time. In MLM, everyone is a prospect. Every waking moment is a potential time for marketing. There are no off-limit places, people or times for selling. Consequently, there is no free space or free time once a person enrolls in MLM system.

Under the guise of creating money independently and in your free time, the system gains control and dominance over people’s entire lives and requires rigid conformity to the program. This accounts for why so many people who become deeply involved end up needing and relying upon MLM desperately. They alienate or abandon other sustaining relationships.

Lie #8: MLM is a positive, supportive new business that affirms the human spirit and personal freedom.

Truth: MLM marketing materials reveal that much of the message is fear-driven and based upon deception about income potential. Solicitations frequently include dire predictions about the impending collapse of other forms of distribution, the disintegration or insensitivity of corporate America, and the lack of opportunity in other professions or services. Conventional professions, trades and business are routinely demeaned and ridiculed for not offering ‘unlimited income.’ Employment is cast as wage enslavement for ‘losers.’ MLM is presented as the last best hope for many people. This approach, in addition to being deceptive, frequently has a discouraging effect on people who otherwise would pursue their own unique visions of success and happiness. A sound business opportunity does not have to base its worth on negative predictions and warnings.

Lie #9: MLM is the best option for owning your own business and attaining real economic independence.

Truth: MLM is not true self-employment. ‘Owning’ an MLM distributorship is an illusion. Some MLM companies forbid distributors from carrying additional lines. Most MLM contracts make termination of the distributorship easy and immediate for the company. Short of termination, downlines can be taken away with a variety of means. Participation requires rigid adherence to the ‘duplication’ model, not independence and individuality. MLM distributors are not entrepreneurs but joiners in a complex hierarchical system over which they have little control.

Lie #10: MLM is not a pyramid scheme because products are sold.

Truth: The sale of products is in no way a protection from anti-pyramid scheme statutes or unfair trade practices set forth in federal and state law. MLMs that sell useful, quality products have been successfully prosecuted under anti-pyramid scheme laws by state and federal officials. MLM is a legal form of business only under certain rigid conditions set forth by the FTC and state Attorneys General. Many MLMs are currently in gross violation of these guidelines and operate only because they have not been prosecuted. Recent court rulings are using a 70% rule to determine an MLM’s legality. At least 70% of all goods sold by the MLM company must be purchased by non-distributors. This standard would place most MLM companies outside the law. The largest of all MLMs acknowledges that only 18% of its sales are made to non-distributors.

13 Comments

  1. NayMKWay

    This is such a great takedown of the MLM lies. Today, I think #10 gets parroted the most. Often people post screen shots of conversations on Reddit’s r/AntiMLM sub, and they go something like this:

    Friend (who pops up out of the blue): “Hey, babe, I just started a new business, and I think you’d be great it it! Blah, blah…”

    Would-be victim: “No thanks, not interested in MLM. Good luck, though.”

    Friend: “It’s not a pyramid scheme! Pyramid schemes don’t have products! Educate yourself.”

    (Note that the would-be victim never said “pyramid scheme.” That’s how knee-jerk the reaction often is.)

    People new to that sub-Reddit often post questions like “Is MegaConCorp an MLM? My cousin is talking it up and says it isn’t.” My advice to them is to ask if, should you join, you’ll be able to build your own team. Of course the answer will be “yes,” because of course the company is MLM, no matter what they choose to call it. And you will immediately know it is an unsustainable endless recruiting chain, and you will run the other way.

    Unlimited recruiting == scam MLM. Every time.

    1. TRACY

      I realize these types of articles aren’t all that exciting. But I like to post them from time to time because they give information that people can hopefully use when friends and family are getting sucked in.

  2. Lazy Gardens

    Financial issues aside, MLMs “do not scale” … something that doesn’t scale means that its functionality is reduced to the point that it is no longer reliable or productive when it is widely used. Think of all the petty transactions, the time-consuming calling and ordering from your various consultants, the multiple shipments with the associated packaging and carbon footprint to recieve, unpack and track … versus just going shopping.

  3. Cindylu

    With all the scams of today. Telemarketing calls, romance scams, mlm, robot call scams, grandchild scams, secret shopper scam, televangelisation etc. It’s a wonder we’re not all broke and homeless. 🙁 , :-t

    1. PeachyNotPink

      For what it is worth, Secret Shopping (or Mystery Shopping) is not generally a scam. There are definitely companies out there trying to scam people by saying they offer Secret Shopping opportunities (btw, you should NEVER have to pay to be a Mystery Shopper). I was a Mystery Shopper for a few years when I was trying to earn some extra money to get out of debt. It is definitely a legit way to earn money.

      And I have a question: What is a grandchild scam? I’ve never heard of that one… 🙂

      1. Lazy Gardens

        A “grandchild scam” … scammers stalk your social media and find out names and locations of your grandchildren, then call you pretending to be them in some sort of SERIOUS trouble for which then need CASH sent as quickly as possible. Ot an Amazon gift card’s code numbers.

        The scammers tend to call with hysterical voices and then hand off to the lawyer or doctor or cop … who repeats the demands. Grandchild is heard crying and moaning in the background.

        They rely on panicking you.

          1. reader

            The version I heard is them calling elderly people very late at night, hoping that the victim will be too sleepy to question details during the panic. This way, they hope they don’t need to look up the actual grandchild’s name first.

  4. enorth

    “#4 – the crassest form of materialism”

    Look at me on the cruise, look at me at the Four Seasons spa in Hawaii, look at me popping out of my Cadillac’s sunroof, look at me in a gown, look at my “diamond” ring, look at the plate of food placed before me at seminar…

    The one I always remember is the high-heeled sales director stooping down and kissing the back-bumper of her MK car, and it wasn’t even the Cadillac.

    1. Pinkgirl

      Queue the Pink Friday sale posts.. you know simple knowledge of any retail business will tell you the simple reasons why this does not work and the consultant is the customer.
      Mary Kay touts it’s business model as sales and earning 50% of what you sell. Well, we here all know that is rubbish and no one in any MLM is making 50% profit on product sales. But neither is any retailer. Sure that shirt might have a 100% mark up from the distributor to the retail store but then there is credit card fees, wages, building costs, sales, theft, returns,etc. It’s actually a very small margin that most stores make on the individual item sold. If they are a specialty shop, say like Tiffany and Co., they probably make more per item but sell way less. There is the simple reason number # 1 that it is just so easy to sell Mary Kay doesn’t work. If you are in niche retail or specialty sales not mass markets, you have be cautious with the saturation and distribution of your brand. About 10 years ago, Coach was facing a major crisis for their flagship stores. Why buy full retail when the outlet has the bag in three weeks at 60% off? Also, high end brands make themselves a destination they don’t want a store to pop up right next door selling the exact same thing. Another reason why MLM is not ever going to work.

  5. Cindylu

    I remember one NSD talking about how she was making more than anyone on an airplane she was on. Same one who bragged about paying off a car with just one month commission check. She also spoke about losing unit after unit and many pink cars. Also we heard about her being in therapy (especially when her kid wrote off two cars she supposedly gave him as gifts. Another NSD boasted about purchasing $3500.00 high heel shoes (Like somehow that was something to be gloating about). Women in their units stuck with unsold products and thousands in debt. However expensive shoes are somehow the priority. Then they wonder why thousands of us are disillusioned with these spiteful women. Also why PT is such a vital part of exposing the many lies and flaws of mlm scams.

    1. TRACY

      Cindy – I would really like an article about this for the front page. I don’t care if you name the NSDs or keep the names confidential. I think this stuff is important… the contrast between their material goods and losing directors left and right. Would you consider writing something?

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