Facts, opinions, and the real story behind Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Mary Kay’s Negative Motivation

Written by Raisinberry

Dream Big! Shoot for the moon! Even if you miss you will land among the stars! Show up to Go Up! Believe and You will achieve! Act enthusiastic and you will become enthusiastic! Whatever you say you will do, do it if you have to move heaven and earth!

Back in the day we could get a Mary Kay “Words of Wisdom” calendar with something like a $400 wholesale order. It was a virtual smorgasbord of gems and jewels to foster positive motivation. One of the sayings: “Failure is an inevitable, necessary and useful part of being successful. Actually we learn more from failing than from succeeding because failure impresses us with what we did not do, and it impresses us more memorably than succeeding.”

It appears to me that our NSDs have taken that gem to heart… the power of impressing in us what we did not do – at least in my former national area.

It started with the posting of who was attending Seminar or Career Conference in the newsletter. The idea was to publicly embarrass sales directors for deciding not to participate. Sales directors in turn, posted the unit members who were attending, in hopes that all those whose names did not appear would register immediately. The power of being left out… of being the only one who didn’t help, or achieve or participate looms large overhead.

By having everyone know you hadn’t made the commitment to attend, you were revealing how you weren’t a team player, or worse, were not committed to leadership. Emails would come out daily announcing all those who did not sign up. Or, a different slant would be, “These are the women who are committed to their business..” When asking for a reply, the national would email, “These are the women I have not heard from.”

It must have been a powerful guilt producer, this negative motivation, because the newsletter started posting not just the Top Ten Units, but all the Units, the Director’s personal order (or lack thereof), and her recruits (or lack thereof) and Unit recruits (or of course, lack thereof). It became pretty clear that everyone was going to know if you were struggling or “not helping” the national area.

Whether an area was winning an exotic trip for their national, or a 15% increase, or Inner Circle, you didn’t want to be the unit that didn’t produce! You didn’t want to be the unit that lost it for your national. You didn’t want to be the director that didn’t help her finish!

All those lovely positive motivational calendar quips go flying out the window in the face of the powerfully moving impression of failure. Negative motivation is just one more tool in the bag of manipulation tricks held by the sales directors and the nationals. It is designed to get us to pony up the resources to save face. Mission accomplished: complete control!!!

Shoot for the moon! And if you miss… better hope it is not featured on social media!


  1. Pinkiu

    The equivalent in schools is the clip up/clip down system of behavior management. If you misbehave (according to the teacher) you have to clip down toward the red zone. If you do something the teacher thinks is positive, you get to clip up toward the green zone.

    If you have elementary kids, ask them if their teacher uses this kind of system. Ask them if they know who the “reds” are and who the “greens” are – or whatever color or terms the teacher uses.

    They similarity is striking. You have one person (teacher/SD) who determines what good behavior is regardless as to whether or not it is in fact ‘good.’ Then there is a public system of praising and shaming. In theory, the kids who are shamed should be motivated to change their wicked ways and do what the teacher wants. However, as any of your children will tell you, that doesn’t happen. It’s always the same kids in the red zone and the same kids in the green zone. Skinner may work in some circumstances, but in real life, his theory of praise and punishment backfires.

    I, for one, dig in deep when someone tries to use this ‘motivation’ strategy on me. If you dangle a prize in front of me or threaten me because I didn’t do your bidding, I double down and determine not to do it. Kids do the same thing.

    The only ones this works for are those who are only motivated by being the top already. Think of the movie School of Rock. Remember when Summer was motivated by the ‘star’ system and Dewey said it was an evil system and tore it off the wall? That’s the same thing here.

    1. NayMKWay

      My wife is a school teacher and can attest to the above. Some kids are well-behaved, others are not. Those who are not consider “red clip” status as a prize. They may whine and cry “no fair!” when the green-clip kids get some kind of reward, but it rarely causes them to change their ways.

      1. coralrose

        Do you mean why does Corporate want people to go to Seminar (or any other event)? Because it supplies a fresh round of motivation/brainwashing. They get a few new ideas for booking or recruiting & they think they’ll work. (Spoiler alert: the ideas don’t work). Consultants think “I can do this!” and they go home and place a wholesale order. It also helps keep people in MK just a little bit longer.

    1. Char

      It’s an opportunity to indoctrinate them further. Motivation, brainwashing, and group think are very powerful tools to build an organization that siphons money from its members.

      People think MLM is about the MLMer reselling product. Wrong. Mary Kay Inc.’s sales and marketing strategy is to convince its direct buying customers that they are the “sales force”.

  2. BestDecision

    Or how about being seated in the back row of your unit meeting because someone did more than you. The threat of being left out is ABSOLUTELY used in MK to manipulate ordering/production, recruiting, and attendance.

    I know the feeling of going to Director classes based on unit size right after having another offspring debut. Size doesn’t indicate experience at all, yet Sean Key and others loved doing that to us. I also know the feeling of missing out on a Leadership party and seeing everyone who was there the night before getting to stroll in with souvenirs they were wearing or collected.

    And they preached to us about having a “lack mentality”.

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