A second helping of backhanded helping hands.

Documentary: Betting on Zero

Click here to read the first part of this post.

We’ve all known someone who has been involved in an MLM (multi-level marketing) business. In the early 90s, I attended a Tupperware party as Mom’s accessory. The host had me reach into a bag for two prizes, which was a long, plastic spoon designed to extract maraschino cherries or olives out of their skinny jar and a serrated plastic scraper used for combing ridges in the icing around a cake. The reason I remember the prizes is because the host had to explain what they were. You know the prizes suck when they require an explanation.

An old Tupperware print ad showing a plastic device in the middle of a corn cob. The text says
A solution to a problem you did not know you had.

Mom and I returned home from this party with a set to make the host feel less sad about having spent an hour giving a presentation on vacuum seal containers in her living room. 25+ years later, Dad still has a few pieces from that set, which says something for the quality of the wares of Tupper. So, the product wasn’t the problem, the problem was that their employees were paying the bosses rather than the right way around.

The MLM industry is full of people who don’t know what they’re doing telling others what to do.

I had a boyfriend who was recruited by Vector Marketing to sell Cutco knives when he was a university student. Before he could go door-to-door to wow people, he had to pay for a set of demo knives out of his own pocket. My job doesn’t make me buy my own tools.

Who doesn’t want to buy knives from a university student?

“Good evening, madam. You have been selected by the good people of Slash-Co to reap the benefits of their new, Nev-R-Dull knife edge. Here, shake hands with the Slash-Co.” “Ahhhh!” “Handle first. Handle first.”

This guy, who could solve ridiculous physics equations, thought this was a valid way to earn cash? To his credit, those knives seemed sharp enough to fillet the hands of cotton-headed coffin-dodgers.

A rendering of Herbalife's President's Team pin, which is gold and studded with diamonds.

University students with their schedule constraints and limited income are easily taken advantage of, as are poor immigrants, senior citizens, stay at home moms, and disabled people. MLM companies don’t exist to empower people by giving them the tools to dig themselves out of poverty. Herbalife with their Diamond Club member pins, help people? Haha.

Here’s Millionaire Team Member Brad (not his real name, or maybe it is?) regurgitating clichés while in swim shorts:

A white
What else you wanna tell me, Brad? The sky’s the limit? Think outside the box? Never give up? When all else fails, suck dick?

Missionaries also have an affinity for the vulnerable. They’ll also try selling you hope, not in exchange for money, but to snake their way into heaven. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses via God, there are only 144,000 spots in heaven that are awarded to the most prolific preachers. Can you imagine a heaven with 144,000 of the preachiest preachers to ever exist? Guys like Millionaire Team Member Brad, only with more clothes.

To fulfill their needs, Brad and Jehovah’s Witnesses are selling fantasies to impressionable people. Jehovah’s Witnesses need an afterlife in which they won’t hate themselves. Brad needs gold watches for his white tigers. If you think about it, Scientology is the marriage of religion and pyramid schemes.

My cynicism has shielded me from those schemes. I’m resistant to even small incentive programs such as loyalty cards. It’s evident businesses would not offer loyalty cards if it meant losing money. These cards only serve to get you to patronize a business, by giving you the illusion that you’ll benefit from it.

I became loyalty card-free after a decade of carrying a piece of plastic that had “Shoppers Optimum Card” printed on it in my wallet, only to get a $10 credit. I’m disloyal. I mean, if you offered to pay me a dollar a year to keep your card in my wallet, I’d say no. (Actually, I’d ask why, but also say no.)

It helped to have a dad who was critical of everything: marketing claims, religion, pop culture, professional sports, headbands for babies, etc. I watched a lot of TV as a kid and therefore was exposed to many hours of infomercials. I remember helpfully suggesting that Dad buy Didi 7 to get rid of a stain he was scrubbing out of a shirt only to receive an impromptu lesson in marketing.


Dad does have some credibility: he has been running a successful jewelry business for 30 years (at least he exploits the wealthy rather than the poor). When I was a child, he taught me about the concept of “loss-leaders” to explain why pumpkins purchased from supermarkets were significantly cheaper than directly from the farm. Before entering high school, I was aware that De Beers stockpiled diamonds to keep the prices inflated. What other 12-year-old can make this claim? I knew the success of diamond engagement rings could all be attributed to their brilliant marketing slogan from 1948, “A diamond is forever.” Now, I’ve spent the last 13 years of my life working retail.

Eventually, Dad’s critical schooling permeated me and turned me into somewhat of a killjoy. Consequently, my friends never invited me to things like Passion Parties (brought to you by the MLM company, Pure Romance), or even regular parties. I couldn’t present my contrarian opinions without them coming across as personal attacks. To make the most Millennial reference ever, my friends chose the blue pill over the red pill I was offering them.

A still from The Matrix. A close-up of Morpheus' mirror sunglasses shows Keanu's reflection as he reaches for the red pill from the palm of one hand. In the other hand is the blue pill.
What happens if you… take both?

Betting on Zero left me with the feeling that the already wealthy Bill Ackman went up against Herbalife in a bid for notoriety. He was successful in that, but his bet on Herbalife’s doom? Not so much. He’s still recognized by Forbes as one of the world’s wealthiest. As for me, as a person whose lifetime earnings are less than what Ackman’s gold watch is worth, my anti-MLM stance is more likely to alienate others.

A screenshot from The Simpsons featuring a character showing a crossed out red triangle projected on a screen. The text says

Before watching the documentary, I knew there was a small profit to be made in hosting, say, Tupperware parties, but it goes deeper than that. MLM companies will convince you that you need to spend money to make money as if we all have Ackman’s deep pockets. Many–if not all–of those companies require that the representative meet a monthly sales quota just to stay active. What usually ends up happening is that the representative fills the quota with personal purchases. They need to keep playing at a chance to win, while the company wins no matter what.

As long as you’re willing to swindle people yourself, and bombard your family and friends with ads via your social media accounts, yeah, you could be the next Brad.

If you’ve become as fascinated with MLM schemes as I have, Elle Beau’s “Poonique” Misadventures is simultaneously hilarious and disturbing.

5 thoughts on “A second helping of backhanded helping hands.

  1. It’s the year 1997. I tell my cousin I have a job interview. After telling him some information he asks, “is this for selling Cutco Knives?” He calls the phone number and turns out that was the case. “Don’t go,” he says.
    Same year and same cousin gets me to go to a Primerica seminar. Even though I had to take a shit halfway into the seminar, at the end of it I came out really motivated. Not motivated to join but just very optimistic in general.
    A year later a friend dragged the whole group to a WFC seminar. “No way, I’m not going” I said.
    Two years ago I got suckered to go to an Amway meeting. I wasn’t aware it was an Amway meeting until I got there and saw the brand of bottled water that a friend representing Amway tried to sell me a few years prior. The meeting was okay though. Amway’s new trick is to not charge you a fee to join but to get you to attend their seminars held in various cities for the price of VIP seating at a Madonna concert. My sponsor got pissed off when I referred to Amway as an MLM.
    I just remembered that I’m signed up with an MLM right now. My piano teacher said I didn’t have to pay anything and that I would be receiving cheques. She put me high on her pyramid! No money yet though.
    Damn, those MLMs are like parasites!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I had a boyfriend who was recruited by Vector Marketing to sell Cutco knives when he was a university student.”

    I also went to an interview and was offered a job by them! The whole experience was so uncomfortable and I turned the job down but I’ll never forget it.

    Liked by 1 person

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