During the Obama administration, the Federal Trade Commission made its biggest-ever effort to curb this industry when last summer it slapped nutritional supplement–seller Herbalife with a $200 million fine and, as part of a settlement with Herbalife, demanded it restructure its business so that it would “start operating legitimately,” as FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez put it. The FTC alleged Herbalife had engaged in “unfair and deceptive practices,” and put it under a federal monitor for seven years, demanding onerous changes to its compensation plan and requiring extensive documentation of customer sales. Ramirez then set down an ambitious posture for the FTC: In the future, she said at an MLM industry conference in October, these companies should adopt the new Herbalife rules when structuring their businesses, as the FTC would be watching.
Establishing—and regularly updating—the company brand is critical to the success of the campaign. Multi-level marketers will identify the company’s primary goods and services, and then research the target market whose needs they’re meeting. Marketers and creative alike will make certain that the “personality” of the brand resonates with the general personality of the target customer; likewise, messaging will be regularly adjusted to reflect customers’ changing and growing interests.
Even while the popular culture’s view of MLMs is shifting, FitzPatrick doesn’t think we’re yet at a tipping point where consumers reject them en masse. Trump’s election may help explain why. After the election, FitzPatrick says he sent out a newsletter to the many victims of pyramid schemes who’ve come to him for help, explaining the connections with Trump.
MLM and direct selling programs also offer very low barriers into entrepreneurship, often providing training, support, and ample encouragement along the way. As retirees begin to realize they need activities that keep them busy, relevant, in good health, and connected to others, the time, energy and cost to participate in these kinds of companies make them very appealing to large segments of the population caught up in these dynamics.
Consultants make up the vast majority of MLM jobs. However, The Direct Selling Association (DSA) reports that the average annual income for consultants is about $2,400; in addition, roughly 90 percent of all consultants earn less than $5,000 annually. Not exactly the stuff through which marketing careers are made—although it could prove to be valuable entry-level experience.
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