MLM and Words with John Doe

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Today we welcome our ally, Dr John Doe, from The MLM Syndrome. Thank you, John!

[John:] Today’s blog post is going to explore the words MLMers use to deceive potential recruits as they pitch their MLM “business opportunity”. Words, at face value, are codes designed to transfer a thought from one person’s brain to another. They are an agreed-upon set of characters in a specific order which translates into a concept. Words do not have emotions, they do not have thoughts, they do not have tone, but rather they are a vessel in which people can convey the aforementioned from their head to another’s. By putting words in a specific order, and using a voice inflection, you can make a particular word(s) have a variety of different meanings, which is the reason language is considered an art.

Even the simplest of phrases can be interpreted in a variety of different ways, and a sentence can only make sense if both people agree upon the meaning. A basic example could be the phrase, “How are you doing today?”. Depending on the person that comes from, the voice inflection they use, and what part of the world they are from, this phrase can be interpreted many ways. If you have an intimate relationship with the other person, then you may respond in kind and tell them how you are doing that day. If you do not have an intimate relationship with the person, then you may respond with a short answer, such as, “Good”, and then move into the next subject. If the person says the phrase sarcastically, then they may not actually care to know how you are and would rather have you ask them what is wrong. Again, it is all about context with words, not the actual words themselves.

This brings me to the words MLMers use to manipulate their downlines and potential recruits. Because MLMers use words to obfuscate reality when they are pitching the “business opportunity”, the obfuscation must continue throughout the duration of a person’s involvement within the MLM. This leads to an alternate reality in which a core MLM believer cannot relate to the reality of others and causes them to break away from the rest of their community. A professional MLM wordsmith will be able to spin anything to suit their narrative and will work diligently to dispel any potential outside interference that could result in an MLMer having doubt. MLMers use their words as a form of unrelenting control over their members; this type of control is necessary to keep MLMers involved in the “business”.

So, let’s review some of the ways in which MLMers use their words to deceive people into believing their “business opportunity” is good:

1. You can make money working MLM part-time, and it can be a great source to subsidize your monthly income.

Answer: MLM has historically been a terrible investment of time and money. Whether you work part-time or full-time at MLM, there is an over 99% chance you will not make a return on investment. For every one person that was able to accomplish this, close to a thousand were not. Therefore, it is not accurate to suggest a person can make money at MLM part-time, when, according to the statistics, it is a mathematical certainty a person will fail.

2. “Corporate America” is a pyramid. There is a CEO, then there are general managers, then there are supervisors, and finally employees.

Answer: The pyramid shape of a business does not equate to it being a pyramid scheme. The structure of the business model is not the same as the structure of a compensation plan. It is an unfortunate coincidence that the two share the same shape, but fundamentally, there is nothing else they have in common. If the money is earned through the sales of goods or services to people outside of the business, then that is a legitimate business model. If the money is earned through a series of recruiting and purchases from members within the business, then that is a pyramid scheme.

3. Running an MLM business is easy. You will have a mentor that will teach you the process of duplication.

Answer: This is coded language for saying you will have a member that came before you, commonly referred to as an upline, teach you the “business opportunity” pitch, then release you to the world and have you “duplicate” by finding new people to be pitched the “business opportunity”. This process will repeat ad infinitum until there are no people left, the business collapses, or the business is shut down by the law. If someone ever approaches you about a “duplication” opportunity, then they are trying to recruit you into an endless chain program (commonly referred to as a pyramid scheme).

These examples are just a small portion of the many ways in which MLMers use their words to create mental gymnastics for their recruits. MLMers will also use “buzz words” designed to create imagery within a person’s head. Some examples include dreams, freedom, wealth, religion, marriage, and friendship. These words are used as a specific tool to transport someone from the “business opportunity” to an ideological utopian world. The relationship between these “buzz words” and MLM are antithetical, and yet, MLMers will use language to manipulate the “buzz words” into suiting their narrative.


Here are some examples in which MLMers use “buzz words” incorrectly to create imagery of MLM that doesn’t exist:

  1. MLM will bring you closer to the dreams, freedom, and lifestyle you deserve. MLMs will give you opportunities a “traditional job” cannot.

    Answer: MLMs have the highest failure rates of any business. MLMs have almost never given people their dreams, this excludes the creators and “master distributors”, and the freedom MLMs give comes at a heavy cost. MLMers may be able to wake up whenever they want, but they better have a great income, or they will find that their MLM freedom will lead them to destitution.

  2. MLMs hold Christian values and are able to bring more than money to members. They will have a “business” by helping others, which is both profitable and good for the community.

    Answer: MLMs violate multiple commandments, and they do not help people become closer with God. MLMers will worship their uplines and MLM creators, they will not remember the Sabbath, but rather force you to attend a seminar, they will make you choose uplines over your mother and father, they will lie to you about the “business opportunity”, they are covetous of others. MLM leaders are not only bad religious actors but bad people as well.

  3. MLMs help keep marriages together, unlike “traditional jobs” that force spouses to be separated for many hours a day.

    Answer: MLMs force marriages to go through a large number of problems. First, if only one spouse is interested in the MLM, the MLMer may suggest it is important to put the MLM before the spouse. Second, MLM is a money sink, since between 95-99% of all MLMers do not make money, and therefore can put a financial strain on a marriage. Third, MLMs require participation at odd hours and in strange places. Sure, you may both be in attendance, but you aren’t focusing on your marriage, but rather a recruitment of new members to the MLM. Most MLMers don’t want to be spending their free time away from children to go show people the “plan”, and they are not recruited based on the “opportunity” to present the “business” together.

  4.  MLM will introduce you to a group of people that will be your friends, family, neighbours, lovers, and anything else they need you to be.

    Answer: This is the strangest part of MLM. It is supposed to be a “business opportunity” about making money, but they are heavily involved with the personal lives of their members. This is where the obfuscation between business and pleasure becomes an issue, and it is part of the reason people refer to MLMs as cults.

    To reiterate, MLMers are expert wordsmiths that use language as a weapon to convert unsuspecting and uninformed people to their programs. They will approach people inappropriately, such as at a shopping mart with their family, at a restaurant or coffee shop, or at a “traditional job”, and they will prey on people in vulnerable positions. They will use their words to distort the “business opportunity” and use reality-inverting jargon to create a narrative that doesn’t exist. They are psychological black-belts that have been trained in the dark arts of the confidence game.

    The best way to defend oneself against the linguistic weaponry of MLMers is to question them at every point. Hold them accountable for the words they use, and make sure you are understanding everything they are saying. Don’t let them make claims without a form of evidence, and don’t let them use rhetoric as a means of efficacy. Most MLMers will fall apart once they realize their prospect isn’t going to be an unquestioning pawn for recruitment.

Further Reading & Support

Photo credits: Alexandra on Unsplash; Stéphan Valentin on Unsplash

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