On many things, Artist Cafe Utica is firm. This is strictly a Christian, politically liberal, and pro-arts and artists website. It is written for and about Utica artists, and there is no goal of expanding the audience. That will never change. But every once in a while, there is a specific issue where the stance of the page may shift. This happened gradually over the past year and a half with the issue of direct selling, also known as network marketing or multilevel marketing.
Artist Cafe Utica began as an “anti-MLM with Avon as the one exception “site. The more I learned about the current culture and some practices of Avon, the more I came to believe that there were no exceptions in MLMs. The site grew into a strictly anti-MLM online space, and I considered myself a part of the anti-MLM community…..a tiny local niche part…but a part.
Over the past several weeks, anti-MLM education and activism has taken a hit, and a well-deserved one. The latest trend in anti-MLM videos and articles is “We attended a multilevel marketing party so you don’t have to.” In order to write or film their content, the anti-MLM activist either joins an online sales party for a multilevel marketing company, or obtains samples of the product and watches a filmed party or training session.
Some of these are useful for anti-MLM education, as the content creator points out the aggressive recruitment tactics, inflated income claims, and other features that are legitimate criticisms of most MLMs and many of their representatives. But a recent social media trend has taken a disturbing turn.
A few weeks ago, a new anti-MLM video was posted on YouTube. In this video, a well-known anti-MLM YouTuber participated in this social media challenge with her best friend by trying some of the MLM company’s products a fan had sent her while watching a filmed party. The vlogger and her friend appeared in the bottom corner of the screen while the party video played above them. The particular company they chose to highlight sells lounge wear, lingerie, and bath and fragrance products, along with more intimate, adults-only items in the back of their catalog. The details are left intentionally vague to keep this a “safe for work” article.
Rather than focusing on criticisms against multilevel marketing, the vlogger and her friend shrieked, giggled, and made cruel remarks about the MLM sales representative’s body and sexuality, engaging in behaviors such as putting the products on their hands, sniffing them, and shrieking in horror because they now smelled like the MLM representative’s body parts….including her “private parts.”
The YouTuber/vlogger’s comment section was full of fans cheering her and her friend on, and requesting more videos like this one.
It is true that the content creators have the legal right to produce the content, and the fans have a right to enjoy it and to support it. They are not inciting a riot or any other criminal activity, and therefore have the first amendment right to say whatever they want. But the first amendment protects you from persecution by the government for what you say. It doesn’t protect you from your actions having consequences you didn’t want, or from other people disagreeing with you or disliking you based on what you say. I’m not suggesting the content creators be arrested, fined, or denied government services for creating the content.
Artist Cafe Utica simply does not support or condone behavior like this. This is not activism. It is not education. It is bullying.
Was I wrong about MLMs? Did my support of the anti MLM community only serve to support internet bullies? Let’s look at each of my arguments against network marketing, and their rebuttals.
Network marketing, direct selling, or multilevel marketing is based on a flawed business model. It sets most people up to fail. The only way you can become a top earner is to recruit a team of people. Eventually, you are going to run out of people.
Honest network marketers openly admit that most people do not reach the top levels when signing up to sell for these companies. But everybody does not join to become a millionaire. People may join with the intent to use their sales and even team building, as a side hustle to make some extra cash. Or maybe they want to make enough money to build a small vacation fund, or ease the burden on the family finances by paying a single bill. McDonalds has run ads suggesting that their jobs are launching pads for amazing careers, and every job there certainly isn’t a guaranteed road to fortune. It is possible for someone to join a network marketing company, and still be levelheaded enough to tell the difference between corporate hype, claims from more naïve co-workers, and reality.
The products and services offered by these companies are of lower quality than those offered by retailers at the same price point.
The quality of many of the products offered by these companies is subjective. One person may swear by the store brand nutrition shakes they get from Walmart, while another will only drink what they buy from GNC, and yet another may honestly like something from an MLM. Some people insist makeup and other cosmetics from the Dollar Tree are as good or better than high end brands. While it is fair to criticize any company whose products have caused consumers harm, such as Monat’s series of lawsuits due to hair loss and scalp burns, there are certainly traditional retailers who have produced similarly harmful products. Claiming that an eighteen dollar lipstick from an MLM is only as good as a two or six dollar lipstick from a retailer is unfair, because it only means that I liked the one from the retailer better, not that it will perform better for anyone else.
In the time you put into working for an MLM, you could have worked a minimum wage job and earned more money.
Taken alone, this statement is true. Even if you spend only ten minutes each day checking your sales page, you spend so much time devoted to your MLM, you could have earned more money by working the same amount of hours at McDonald’s or Starbucks or the phone kiosk in the mall. But is this a fair comparison in terms of the work you have to do? You can check your direct sales page while sipping your coffee in the morning or popping into the break room for your ten minute break during a shift at your main job. To earn extra money with an additional minimum wage job, you will have to stand on your feet for hours at a time, cope with irate customers, and suffer all the other well-documented indignaties of most minimum wage work.
The friendships formed through these companies are false. Your friends you make in an MLM will vanish as soon as you stop devoting all your time and energy to the company. They’re only interested in you for the money they can make from your labor.
There is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence for this. Stories abound of people who were drawn in with promises of sisterhoods and families, and behavior that could only be described as “love bombing,” only to be insulted, pushed aside, and abandoned when they questioned anything or decided the company wasn’t for them. But perhaps it is unfair to assume that absolutely everyone who joins a network marketing company behaves like this. Most of these stories are found on anti-MLM sites. People who navigate to these pages know they’re not going to be welcome if they have a pro-MLM or even neutral story. Only the stories of cruelty are going to get posted. This would only be a fair claim if the research were done on a site that invited stories of both harm and benefit brought by the MLM.
MLM representatives endanger people by presenting themselves as experts, when all they did was pay a fee and open up a box of paperwork and maybe some products from the company.
This is common, and it is dangerous. You are not an expert on fitness just because you signed up to sell workout programs with Beach Body. You’re not a nutritionist just because you signed up with Arbonne or Avon and they offer vitamins and shakes now, or a makeup artist because you sell Jafra or Mary Kay. Any MLM representative who does this should be avoided. But so should anyone else who takes an entry level job and tries to behave as though they’re an expert. Just because something is a common problem among a group of people, that does not mean everybody in that group exhibits the same behavior, or that the problem does not exist outside that group.
Some claims common to multilevel/network marketing are indeed false. You do not have your own business. You’re hiring yourself out to the company as an independent sales agent. The outlandish income promises help no one but the corporation. And the common tactic of behaving as though anyone who works a traditional job is foolish or lazy is unfair, no matter how much you love your network marketing work. But the anti-MLM community is flawed as well. Making fun of people who may have joined one of these companies for any number of reasons, painting everyone either as an easily led fool or a cunning and ruthless manipulator and user, is hardly fair. Given the sheer number of people who sign up for these things, it must go well for more than one per cent of people.
Which side are you on? Are MLMs cult-like, financially and emotionally destructive, and never a good idea to get involved with at all? Or are MLMs just ordinary companies with an open hiring policy, with your experiences dependent entirely upon which company you work for and who you get involved with? Or do you fall somewhere in the middle? Is it a good idea to support a friend who works for an MLM, but maybe not the best way to earn extra cash?
Tell us what you think on the Artist Cafe Utica facebook page at: www.facebook.com/ArtistCafeUtica