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The Federal Trade Commission issued a decision, In re Amway Corp., in 1979 in which it indicated that multi-level marketing was not illegal per se in the United States. However, Amway was found guilty of price fixing (by effectively requiring "independent" distributors to sell at the same fixed price) and making exaggerated income claims. The FTC advises that multi-level marketing organizations with greater incentives for recruitment than product sales are to be viewed skeptically. The FTC also warns that the practice of getting commissions from recruiting new members is outlawed in most states as "pyramiding".
The Internet has made it so easy now. In the old days you had to actually visit people, or at least call them, to pitch your fabulous new opportunity. Face-to-face marketing is still practiced, but it is not so common these days. Besides, no one really loves the idea of having someone over, so they go online where everyone can be as safe as they want. They create sites with videos, testimonials, and pictures.
The Direct Selling Association (DSA), a lobbying group for the MLM industry, reported that in 1990 only 25% of DSA members used the MLM business model. By 1999, this had grown to 77.3%. By 2009, 94.2% of DSA members were using MLM, accounting for 99.6% of sellers, and 97.1% of sales. Companies such as Avon, Electrolux, Tupperware, and Kirby were all originally single-level marketing companies, using that traditional and uncontroversial direct selling business model (distinct from MLM) to sell their goods. However, they later introduced multi-level compensation plans, becoming MLMs. The DSA has approximately 200 members while it is estimated there are over 1,000 firms using multi-level marketing in the United States alone.
Next comes Trump’s special adviser on federal regulations, investor Carl Icahn, who has an estimated net worth of $17 billion. Icahn is something of an accidental beneficiary of MLM wealth, having invested in Herbalife to get back at his nemesis, fellow shareholder activist Bill Ackman, after Ackman launched a public short on Herbalife in 2012 and called it a pyramid scheme. Icahn has ended up virtually running Herbalife, owning 24 percent of its shares and holding five board seats. But despite Icahn’s clout, Ackman’s lobbying effort to bring down Herbalife led to the FTC crackdown, which could pummel Herbalife’s earnings. (The company has other problems, as it recently disclosed that it is subject to an anti-corruption probe by both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice over its burgeoning China business.)
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Much has been made of the personal, or internal, consumption issue in recent years. In fact, the amount of internal consumption in any multi-level compensation business does not determine whether or not the FTC will consider the plan a pyramid scheme. The critical question for the FTC is whether the revenues that primarily support the commissions paid to all participants are generated from purchases of goods and services that are not simply incidental to the purchase of the right to participate in a money-making venture.
It's true that not everyone succeeds in network marketing. The 2-10% of network marketers earning big money are the same 2-10% who work consistently in their businesses. But getting rich shouldn't be how network marketing is judged. If getting rich is the measure of success, then many other homes and small business owners, and the majority of employees in traditional jobs are big failures. Instead, network marketing should be measured by the number of people who reach their goals. Many people in network marketing find success when they earn enough to stay home with the kids or pay off debt.
These nonsalaried workers may be stay-at-home parents, college students or part-time workers hoping to make money by selling products such as vitamins and makeup to their friends and family. But experts note that just selling products is typically not enough to make a profit, and workers are encouraged to recruit a "downline," a team of underlings from whose sales they also earn a commission, creating a pyramid-shaped compensation structure.
Almost any product or service could be sold through multilevel marketing, including health, beauty, and fitness products that aren't available on store shelves. Apply a healthy dose of skepticism before buying or selling products advertised as having "miracle" ingredients or guaranteed results. Many of these "quick cures" are unproven, fraudulently marketed, and useless. In fact, they could be dangerous. You may want to check with a health professional before using them — or selling them.
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