Are MLMs the modern day snake oil?

Think the days of quack doctors flogging snake oil are in the past? Find out why today they’re more likely to be selling MLM products. 

Snake oil (“a substance with no real medicinal value sold as a remedy for all diseases” or “a product, policy, etc. of little real worth or value that is promoted as the solution to a problem”) has been around for centuries.

From Chinese railway labourers, to traveling ‘doctors’ in Western movies, people with ‘dubious credentials’ have been “selling fake medicines with boisterous marketing hype, often supported by pseudo-scientific evidence.”

Here’s an example of one of their ads:

So what happened to the Doc Mitchells of the past? Have they packed up their wagons for good and given up hawking products with dodgy, unproven claims? Or have they just changed their disguise and evolved into something else? Like an MLM rep?

MLMs have been warned about making false claims

Just like Doc Mitchell’s false claims on his ‘cure all’ ad, MLM companies like doTERRA and Young Living have been warned by the Federal Trade Commission for a number of violations, including promoting products as treatment “for conditions including, but not limited to, viral infections (including ebola), bacterial infections, cancer, brain injury, autism, endometriosis, Grave’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, tumor reduction, ADD/ADHD.”

Indeed, a quick search on Google images brings up dozens of ads by reps promoting MLM products for all kinds of diseases and ailments, just like this one:

And this one, that claims that Young Living oils can ‘permanently cure’ depression and anger:

(It’s hardly surprising that Young Living reps are confident about making such bold and clearly false claims when you read the disturbing story of their founder, Gary Young!)

Over in New Zealand, this doTERRA rep believes their copaiba oil “absolutely is” a cancer cure – despite admitting that there’s no scientific research to back this up. Doc Mitchell would be proud.

Why you should ditch modern medicine for MLMs

And it’s not just serious diseases like cancer and ebola essential oils can treat. Essential oil MLM reps encourage their customers to ‘makeover’ their medicine cabinets, and ditch scientifically tested, safe medicines for their products:

Maybe the closest thing we have today to Doc Mitchell’s cure all is this. A range of “overpriced” essential oils that have failed independent tests for purity, flogged enthusiastically by an army of medically unqualified MLM reps.

Why we’re still Anti-Fat!

MLM products don’t just help you to treat disease and discomfort. They can also help you lose weight miraculously quickly and easily – a claim they’re happy to prove with before and after photos.

But again, this isn’t a new sales tactic. Just take a look at this 19th Century ad for Allan’s Anti-Fat, the great “purely vegetable” remedy that will help you lose between 2-5lbs a week, apparently:

You would think that today, with over 100 years more science behind us, we’d have moved beyond selling vegetable-based Anti-Fat remedies. But just as in the 1800s, we’re still being flogged expensive ‘natural’ products with big promises:

And it’s not just Herbalife from the ad above who are at it. There’s a glut of MLM companies plugging everything from vegetables to coffee and tea that all magically help you shed pounds with ease:

The only pounds we can say with certainty you’ll lose if you fall for these ads are the ones in your wallet. It’s also worth noting that Valentus had to withdraw from the UK after being banned by Trading Standards for apparently making unacceptable claims.

Why MLMs are worse than the quack doctors

Doc Mitchell himself may be long gone (though you’d hope he lived a long and healthy life, with unlimited access to his cure all…) but his spirit certainly seems to live on in MLMs.

And then some.

Why? Because while the Doc Mitchells of the past seemed to be content with just selling you their useless cure alls, MLMs want YOU to sell their products for them. And just as they’re happy to make apparent false claims and exaggerate the effectiveness of their products, they’re equally as comfortable with deceiving people into believing that selling them will buy them the lifestyle they desire.

However, the reality of being an MLM rep isn’t the work from home on your time, and sell to friends and family using your phone dream that many believe. Thorough, robust research published by the Federal Trade Commission discovered that, on average, 99.6% of MLM reps will lose money.

What’s the cure for MLMs?

If there’s one thing we’d love to find a cure for (as well as cancer, ebola and all the other ailments and diseases mentioned in this article, of course) it would be MLMs.

The more we hear about them and the more we research into them, the more we can’t help but conclude that it’s a parasitic business model that uses peoples’ weaknesses, hopes and vulnerabilities to dupe them into joining a business that will lose up to 99.6% of them money.

Sadly, right now not even Doc Mitchell could claim to have a cure for that. In the meantime we’ll continue to publish articles like this one to help raise awareness of the reality behind the utopia they promise, and hope that we can help some people stay safe.

Read more about MLMs

We’ve published a number of articles on MLMs. Here are some we recommend reading:

Photo by Jenelle Ball