Saturday, May 25, 2013

Is Network Marketing a cult? Good Question! The Answer is Yes (keep reading)

Born into This
Born into This (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There had been charges for many many years from critics of Amway (and MLM in general) that some MLM meetings resemble cult meetings. Indeed, it was documented that at one time, Amway's own "Infocenter" FAQ contained an item where it attempted to answer the question that why do MLM meetings resemble a cult meeting (FAQ no longer available).

The answer is "Yes, some factions of Amway use cult tactics". Indeed, many MLMers found it much easier to use cult tactics to grow their downline than to do real sales.

But first, let us define what are cults, and cult tactics.

Cult: A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.

In this case, the "object" is the business, or the "ideal" of the MLM business.

Cult tactics are designed to not only recruit more members to the cult, it is also designed to keep the members in the cult and never leave.

MLM "cults" are especially destructive due to the monthly autoship and/or monthly "qualification" purchases. Those add up to a continual drain of bank account of the afflicted.

Cult tactics are designed for "coercive persuasion", and it goes far beyond "training" and "inspiration" in that they involve the following 4 factors:

  1. The reliance on intense interpersonal and psychological attack to destabilize an individual's sense of self to promote compliance
  2. The use of an organized peer group
  3. The use of interpersonal pressure to promote conformity
  4. The manipulation of the totality of the person's social environment to stabilize behavior once modified

The difference between this and a job is a matter of choice. If you don't agree with the job, you can leave. You are not psychologically manipulated into staying with the job. A cult, however, will do everything that it can to prevent you from leaving, including sending so-called "friends" into guilt-tripping you. A cult will also seek to distance you from your pre-existing social environment and substitute their environment instead.

Indeed, MLM do use those four factors, whether intentionally or accidentally, to recruit and keep members

1) MLM often use various psychological attacks on the prospective members, usually by belittling the member's existing status, such as "you're stuck in a job and be a wage serf for life (and MLM can save you)".

2) MLM relies on "sales groups" to motivate each other, and very reliant on real or virtual meetings, such as conference calls, recordings, "training calls", and if possible, local meetings where a leader will organize the "peer" group to pressure wavering members into compliance, as well as indoctrinate potential new recruits.

3) MLM injects personal relations (social norms) into what should have been a purely business decision (market norms), i.e. earning money. By using shame and guilt, wavering members are pushed back in line.

4) MLM often uses additional psychological attacks on the members to keep them from friends and family, by insisting their friends and family don't understand (but MLM peers do).  In one documented instance, after the husband quit the MLM in disgust, the wife continued to go to MLM meetings to humor a friend. The "friend" asked the wife why is she sticking with a loser/quitter with no ambition.

MLM is declared cult-like by several cult experts, including Rick Ross and Steven Hassan.

Here's a video interview between Eric and Steven Hassan on "commercial cults". It's a 3 part series.

If you want to read a long study on all aspects of a cult, and how Amway resembles one, you may want to read this study.

So to conclude, yes, MLM often use (whether they mean to or not) cult tactics, and thus many are effectively commercial cults.

THAT is something they don't tell you about network marketing.
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  1. Hey K.Chang, I got a theory for which I would like to see your opinion, and it's tied to cult like tactics you described.

    A (ex) friend of mine got lured inside some MLM "pro team" group. We haven't heard for months, and all of a sudden he phones me up, talking about how he got some great idea for making money, and of course wants me to come to his place to discuss it further.

    I decide to see what he wants and after 5 minutes of what he showed me there, was enough for me to say 'no'. I wasn't impressed with his "business" and I told him honestly what I think about it: "Smells like pyramid scheme, nobody knows anything about this people, what they did before, no physical address, and etc."

    What occurred next can be described by first factor (1): attacks on my financial standing, attacks on my education, and name calling...But there was also something else. Every second sentence was tied to word "money". It was the first time I've ever seen something like that.

    His words were like this: "Dude you talk rubbish. Look how much money you can make. Are you dumb ? How can you refuse the best opportunity ever to earn this much money ? No, those that you linked have no **** clue, they don't know how to do business, they are poor and have no money...But this guy, the guy I was talking about, look how much people follow him, look just how much money he has made, look at that house, those videos from his holidays. HE knows how to make money !"

    Long story short, after this incident, I've started reading more about MLM's on line, and found same usual defensive stuff from online defenders. This brought to me a certain conclusion, for which I'm not sure if it falls into those 4 factors. That's why I'm asking for your opinion.

    Trigger word or magical word for MLM brainwashing is MONEY, cause everything in MLM is about money and money making. Nothing else matters(family, friendship, honor) or can be more important to them then besides getting money and more money.

    They keep using it in all conversations, not just to convince others, but it feels like they mostly use it to persuade themselves. As if, if they stop believing in that magic word, they are certain to fail. Fake it till you make it, until reality hits hard.

    I don't think that kind of obsession is caused by simple greed. It has to be some kind of reprogramming/brainwashing process which uses our magical word that turns normal people into MLM monsters.

    1. I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist, so any observation I made is purely from an amateur's viewpoint, but it's a combination of factors.

      * fact: some are "sheeple", in that they want to be lead, instead of being leaders. They can develop the delusion that they are leading, but they're just aping their leader.

      * fact: social forces are very powerful, esp. if placed in a group/shame context. There was a video on that explained how one community was able to save power consumption by simply putting up a flyer that says "72% of your neighbors are saving power now". Other neighborhoods got different flyers that appeal to monetary savings, environment, and so on. Those didn't work. The one that appealed to group/shame did. However, obviously, this sort of pressure only work on SOME people, (those who need to be social, seeks social approval), and not others (loners).

      * fact: some people are more gullible than others, due to naivete, lack of general knowledge, lack of skepticism, and so on. Scammers often take advantage of this by pretending to point out scams while portraying themselves as trustworthy by focusing on superficial signs of legitimacy, like registration, address, and so on.

      * fact: some people are risk takers, in that they are WILLING to take risks that they PERCEIVE as advantageous to themselves. Scammers take advantage of this by pushing the "no risk no gain" viewpoints, and portray anyone who don't join as "lame ducks" and "losers".

      When all of these factors are present in a single person, that person is especially susceptible to MLM or pseudo-MLM scams that use the cult tactics as discussed in the article.

  2. hey, thanks for your insight! I used to be an MLM "believer" but by the grace of God and common sense, I now see it for what it truly is.

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