Unintentional Comedy: How to Save Yourself from Direct Marketing, MLM, and Network Marketing

by   |  August 7, 2014

Pyramid SchemesYour friend invites you to dinner to discuss something amazing—a well-kept secret that could change your life!

Oh, brother.   You’ve been down this road before, and you fear being cornered into yet another multilevel marketing scheme.   Not wanting to rudely blow off your friend, you agree.   Yet you fear deep in your heart the prospect of being exploited, guilted into buying something you don’t want.

Last night I attended yet another such presentation.   Having acquired the skill of saying, “No”, I have actually come to enjoy these events.   They are free, which makes them cheaper than going to the movies, but they’re just as entertaining.   I always know that after leaving these events I’ll talk for hours with my friends about all the unintentional comedy.

I’d like to indulge for a moment in several points I find consistently—and unintentionally—funny in all direct marketing, multilevel marketing (MLM) and Network Marketing presentations.

“I Know What You’re Thinking, But This Isn’t a Pyramid Scheme!”

As people are catching on to the gimmicks, MLM companies are feeling pressured to explain how their MLM scheme is NOT an MLM scheme.   In fact, these days MLM presentations spend more time explaining how they aren’t pyramid schemes than they spend explaining their products.

This is just one of the many flat-out lies you can expect in an MLM presentation.

The truth is direct marketing, MLM, and network marketing have extremely subtle distinctions that few people understand and fewer people care about.   In essence, they are all the same thing.

“You Get to Be Your Own Boss!”

I laugh at this phrase after a long, hard eye-roll.   Having worked as an entrepreneur for four years, I know how tough it is to run your own business.   It’s never as glamorous as it sounds to “be your own boss”.

What ticks me off more about the overuse of this phrase is it’s simply not true.   There’s no such thing as not having a boss.   If you’re a CEO, the board is your boss.   If you’re a solepreneur, your clients are your boss.   You can never magically float away from the reality of being at the beckon call of someone—the one who gives you money in exchange for your service.

Furthermore, just because you can set your own schedule doesn’t make you “your own boss”.   You have obligations to the company that provides you the inventory and materials you need to do your job.   They may not hold you accountable, but most often with these MLM schemes, they’re happy as long as you keep paying them to keep you stocked up on work supplies.

“This Product Will Change Your Life . . . and Lifestyle!”

Red flags fly all over the place as soon as they start talking about their magical products you can only get through direct sellers.   I always love to ask, “If this product is so great, why can’t I find it in stores?”

The answer is always some squishy declaration of the company’s commitment to its employees.   “Our company has strategically chosen to take the money it would have spent on mass marketing and put that directly in the hands of its employees.   This way, we have the opportunity to be our own bosses and enjoy the life of our dreams.”

Very often these MLM reps actually do peddle decent products.   But if they were truly as miraculous as they claimed to be, competitors would quickly catch on and sell them through more traditional channels.   MLM reps will go to great lengths to distinguish and differentiate their magical products from those of competitors, but the fact remains: if the products were really that irresistible and magical, you would find them in the store.   Period.

When MLM reps sense your disinterest in the product, their next tactic is to sell you the lifestyle.   “Well, did you know you can get other people just like you to buy this and make money for the rest of your life?”   That’s funny.

Guilt Tactics of All Sorts

The more professional direct salespeople won’t resort to primal instincts to get their way.   Sadly, there are many untrained MLM reps who will.   A friend of mine posted about her experience on Facebook:

MLM is funny“Got a call from a friend I haven’t talked to in over 3 years to proposition me into an MLM ‘presentation’. (Her fourth since I met her 5 years ago.) I very politely declined despite repeated attempts to persuade me, telling her I’m too busy, not enough money, not a good candidate for the product, etc etc. and she got seriously offended about it!   I thought she was going to cry, then she hung up on me.   Just for very gently but firmly saying no.   Yikes!”

I liked the post and explained to her why I thought that was funny.   It helped her brush off the initial shock of the interaction.   Many a vindicated MLM victim responded positively to my post, citing their own ridiculous stories of friends and the guilt tactics they tried to use.

Thankfully most MLM reps don’t resort to tears, threats, or loss of friendship. If they do, you can be assured they were never good friends to begin with. Just laugh and wish them luck in their future business interactions–and their personal ones, for that matter.

“If You Don’t Sign Up Today, You’ll Miss Out on This Forever.”

The illusion of scarcity is a common sales and marketing trap.   They know if you have enough time to think about their product and presentation, you’ll see through the hogwash and say, “No”.   They have to close the sale somehow by scaring you into missing this magical opportunity.   Don’t fall for it.   They give these spiels all the time.   Your MLM reps and their faux offers will still be there as long as there are gullible people buying their products.   Laugh and move on.

The Faulty Format

The last thing I find amusing about MLM presentations is the proportion of time they spend explaining the actual product or service.   In most cases, MLM reps give a huge setup of what’s wrong with your life, reminders of the dream life that could be yours, leaving only seconds to spare to explain how the product works and even less time for how much it costs.   They do this on purpose.

In a worst-case, not-so-funny scenario, scummy businesses will con people into spending money they don’t have.   While not MLM-specific, a prime scummy business example is the timeshare company Westgate Resorts.   Sales reps are trained to manipulate customers into thinking they can’t afford NOT to purchase timeshares, claiming their marriages will collapse and their health will decline if they don’t commit and purchase that day.   Somehow these unethical tactics have convinced thousands of Americans to feed the wildly successful, scummy business empire that is Westgate Resorts.

It’s important to be aware of manipulation tactics.   Try to see the intent behind every piece of information the sales reps share with you.   Educate yourself on best practices and worst-case scenarios.   Then, when confronted with these tactics, you can simply laugh and walk away.

And make fun of it to no end with your friends.

More on: Insights, Marketing, Strategies
About the Author:

Mimi West is a consummate entrepreneur, brand and marketing expert. This retired opera singer and Founder of My Dream Teacher is now pursuing her MBA at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Administration. You can follower her on Twitter: @MimiGuynnWest.
Publshed: August 7, 2014  | 
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