Roger Willco

Tin Promises - Tarnished Gold, Part 2 of 6

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I’ll never forget one of Danni’s prospects who had contacted her seeking answers for his multiple sclerosis. Mark headed an exceptionally nice family that included an adult daughter who suffered the ravages of lupus. I went with Danni to their home with a full complement of her MLM company’s products to demonstrate their efficacy with “kinesiology”. This is a pseudo-scientific and highly subjective method of testing the effect of any substance in physical contact with the subject’s tissues—often mucous membranes in the mouth—on their muscular strength. Increased strength indicated that the subject’s body had an affinity for the substance and that the subject should therefore take or apply it by the prescribed route in order to achieve “optimal wellness”. Based on the results of Danni’s tests, Mark and his family signed up for several hundred dollars worth of products each month by “auto-order”.

These wonderful people had invited us to share their noon meal after the conclusion of business. As we sat around the family table, enjoying homemade pea soup and BLTs, I was buoyed by the look of hope on every face. It was obvious too that Danni was delighted to have again helped someone.

Several months later, Mark phoned Danni about his and his daughter’s apparent unresponsiveness to the products they were taking. As it happened, there was a regional company event scheduled near Mark’s home within a few weeks. Danni advised Mark that he and his daughter should continue on the products; and if they would meet us there, she would put them in touch with an RN we knew who could better evaluate their lack of improvement.

Danni and I played host to Mark, his wife and his daughter at the event; and at the appointed time, the five of us met with our RN “friend”, who also happened to be another IBO in the company. She asked Mark how much of which products he and his daughter were taking; and with no further evaluation of any kind advised them to “Just take more of the same products for longer.”

No hole would have been too small for me to crawl into when I saw this woman’s cavalier exploitation of two suffering people in need. It was a clear indication of the moral depravity that was becoming more and more apparent in the culture that surrounded us. It also explained how similar exploitive advice might well have convinced Danni to purchase and consume $1,000 worth of products every month.

In retrospect, I wish I’d had the strength of character to call “foul” on what I saw that day. Soon after this incident, Mark and his family stopped their auto order and terminated contact with Danni; and that gave my conscience some relief. However, I will forever carry guilt for my part in helping Danni unknowingly perpetrate fraud on this beautiful family.

At the national event, a “storefront” was open during breaks between sessions. While a few of the company’s products were displayed for sale, the majority of shoppers seemed to spend most of their time looking at the abundant selection of “company-approved” sales aids and promotional materials offered for sale by the company’s purportedly independent tools-marketing partner. Danni usually spent a minimum of $1,000 at the storefront at each of the eight national or international events we attended together. She was certain that her dream of ascending to the next distributor level was just around the corner. Danni thought that if she just knew more and had the latest promotional literature and CD’s available for the prospects she canvassed, her sales and recruiting volumes would quickly increase.

However, like most people drawn in by MLM’s golden promises of wealth based on projected exponential sales growth, Danni hadn’t analyzed the model beyond the first few levels and neither had I. If we’d understood the implications of exponential growth—rapid market saturation with an oversupply of both products and distributors, we might have recognized that Danni was trying to succeed in a market which had long before become saturated. The solution for her frustration would only have been found by expanding into an unsaturated geographical market . . . not in updated sales aids. With uncontrolled exponential distributor propagation, there was no way for Danni to find out if or where an unsaturated market existed—just one more obscure but catastrophic flaw in the MLM distribution model.

The final evening was devoted to “giving back” through the company’s “charitable” arm. A company executive solicited donations of its “healthy candy” product or cash to purchase it for starving children in foreign countries. I watched in disbelief as Danni deposited a check for $500 in one of the buckets that were circulated after an emotionally charged offering appeal and prayer at the end of the meeting. To my knowledge, the company didn’t pay commissions on the products distributors bought at a discount for donation. It wasn’t until after I extricated myself from MLM world that I realized this had been a scam within a scam—particularly reprehensible for masquerading as a charity—further preying on the company’s naïve cadre of distributors.

While I couldn’t clearly identify why at that time, something about the whole event felt very wrong. I chalked my feelings up to nothing more than my personal discomfort with the appeals to avarice that seemed to dominate the atmosphere; and as I thought about it, there’s really nothing wrong with being rich. Out of my love for Danni, I suppressed my misgivings and continued forward, assisting her in her business to the extent I could.

As I look back, the entire event appears to have been engineered to combine principles of group think, emotional contagion, collective behavior and collective narcissism with the power of a large assembly of peers. The objectives would have been to coerce conformity from individuals to the anomalous behaviors, perceptions and attitudes of the crowd surrounding them and to cultivate a sense that they were part of an exclusive elite group. Whether or not use of these mind-control techniques was deliberate or simply the way it’s always been done is open to question. However, the result was the same either way—participants’ suspension of critical thinking or healthy skepticism that would otherwise prevent their acceptance of MLM’s array of deceptions and entry into its warped reality.

The company’s international event took place every spring. It was identical in format to the national gathering. Smaller groups of distributors in our state organized regional 1½-day conferences patterned after the company’s national and international events—only on a smaller scale and without the breakout sessions.

On the local level, individual distributors hosted periodic “opportunity meetings”. The purpose of these meetings was to present the MLM’s “business opportunity” to prospects in a group setting. The usual practice in our community included stocking attendance with existing distributors who would bring their own prospects as guests and supply contagious enthusiasm. Opportunity meetings included some combination of training, promotional presentations and product sampling. Time was always set aside for testimonials.

Local meetings typically ended with an appeal by a facilitator to those in attendance to write down names of fifteen friends or family members with whom they’d want to share this “fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”. The prospective recipients of their “sharing” were identified to new initiates as their “warm prospects”. By this time in the encounter, through hype and the same mind-control techniques used at the company’s national event, newly recruited IBOs were eager to follow through with their warm prospects, believing they would be doing their friends and families a favor.

That they were about to violate the universal social taboo against exploiting personal relationships for profit seemed to be lost on them. I saw over time that this turned out to be the first step many new IBOs took onto a slippery slope of increasing social aberrancy. I also noticed early on that with few exceptions, it seemed friendships within our MLM culture were quickly formed and intense, but shallow, unreliable and remarkably phony—yet another indicator of tortured social values within that culture.

Two years into our relationship, Danni bought some $20,000 worth of her MLM’s stock at around $20.00/share. Two years later, the company’s stock value began to drop after a nationally televised exposé on healing claims made for its products by one of its IBOs. Two months later, the attorney general for the state in which the company was headquartered filed suit, alleging deceptive marketing practices and violations of the state’s food and drug act. As the company’s stock continued its nosedive in the ensuing months, I pled with Danni to divest herself of her clearly doomed holdings. However, she remained steadfast in her refusal to sell, saying that to do so would betray the company. It wasn’t until another two years had passed that she finally let her stock go when its value had dropped to $3.00/share.

(To be continued )

© 2014, Roger Willco, All rights reserved.

Links: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
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Updated 12-28-2015 at 07:06 PM by Roger Willco

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