Testimonial use in MLMs

We already know that MLM often sell products with absurd health claims. Health claims that are not allowed by law. See here, here, and here about the laws around what health claims are allowable.

People in MLM schemes end up with products that are usually overpriced and of little actual use. The only way they can sell these products is to exaggerate their uses and make it sound like it has magical qualities. Have a look at TINA’s findings of false health claims made by MLMs.

Hence, you see posts like this on Facebook-

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However, these sorts of claims are frowned upon by the law, advertising authorities and the companies themselves. The companies tell their reps, outwardly at least, that they must not make health claims. They have compliance departments that are supposed to be finding these claims and asking their reps to stop.

If these wildly inacurate and illegal claims are not allowed, how are people supposed to sell them?

Juice Plus have come up with a great idea. Share testimonials. Then people are not making claims, they are just sharing stories. Here is an email from their compliance department to a Bot Watcher.

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“If someone has seen that the product has helped them with a specific condition, then we encourage them to tell their story in the first person”.

 

“share this story with your readers or tag them in the post.”

 

 

From this belief sprung the Juice Plus Testimonials page on Face Book. Here, people tell stories about how they took Juice Plus and their health condition improved. Here is a selection of some of those testimonies-

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You can find any medical condition there and use their stories to put on your own page if you are selling Juice Plus and want to make health claims without actually making health claims. Reps end up discussing their customers and working out which of their products to recommend. Totally not making any health claims though. Here’s an example of one such discussion.

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Well there you  go, The shakes must be ok in pregnancy, the rep says so. Even though she has no training. I’ve looked up the ingredients to see if there is any vitamin A in the shakes. There isn’t. Vitamin A can be found in their capsules, but not the shakes. I did find something interesting though. There was a link to click that was labelled

“California residents: Click here for Proposition 65 WARNING.”

I don’t live in California but thought I’d click anyway. This is what I found

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The shakes can cause birth defects. This is pretty serious and it concerns me greatly that reps are telling other reps and customers that it is safe because they used it and they were ok.

It should be pretty obvious that sharing testimonials is a very bad idea. We don’t know the truthfulness of these claims and they could be very harmful. People may try and come off their medications, or have false hope for their condition. There are many, many conditions catered for on the Facebook page and shared widely.

The Law in the UK

Section 15 of the non-broadcast CAP advertising code states what sort of claims can be made for foods or food supplements.

 

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So claims that Juice plus capsules can replace anti depressants would not be allowed. The claims that can be made are very clearly set out I these registers. But what about personal testimonies? Is it ok for someone to say that a product has helped with a condition?

There are some general rules that marketers must comply with when sharing testimonials-

  1. The marketer cannot be the consumer and give their own testimonial.
  2. The marketer must have written permission from the person making the testimonial.
  3. The marketer mush hold evidence the claim is true- evidence of the ordering history, email records (not Hotmail, but a provable email address), address of the customer and be able to prove the testimonial is genuine.

 

This next bit is very interesting, found on this page on the CAP website.

“Marketers may not use testimonials to circumvent the Code by making claims in a consumer review that they would not otherwise be permitted to make. For example, if a marketer doesn’t hold the evidence to substantiate an efficacy claim, they cannot use a testimonial which makes that claim.

Testimonials alone do not constitute substantiation so marketers should not rely on testimonials as support for any direct or implied claims made in the marketing communication.”

What claims are Juice Plus allowed to make?

I asked the MHRA who regulate medicines and supplements in the UK if any health claims are allowed to be made by Juice Plus (and Ariix and Herbalife). This is their reply

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Essentially, this means no health claims can be made for products from Juice Plus.

I told them about the Juice Plus Testimonials page and one of their investigators joined and had a look. They were very concerned about the sort of posts there and wanted to inform Trading Standards about the group. Unfortunately though, they realised the page originated in America so they could not do anything about it.

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I never heard back about anything Facebook said. The page still exists so I am assuming they took no notice.

 

Conclusions

If you can’t make a claim for a product legally, you cannot get around it by using a testimony.

Making health claims that are not proven or allowed could lead people to believing it and ditching their medicines/ treatment. This could lead to significant harm.

If you sell a product, you cannot make your own testimonies when advertising it.

The strict rules around allowable claims are there for a reason, do not break them just so you can make a bit of money. Especially if you are taking advantage of ill people, this is despicable.

 

Why Network Marketing is a Bad Thing.

What’s the harm of network marketing/ distance selling/ multilevel marketing? It’s just normal, everyday people making a bit of spare cash from selling things harmlessly to friends and online, right?

MLM creates victims

Victim 1- friends and family of the rep

You should see some of the heartbreaking stories I hear from people about their worries for their loved ones. It has ruined relationships. Not only can it dramatically ruin close family relationships, it can make working relationships and friendships awkward when someone tries to involve you in their scheme.

Here’s a selection of messages from Bot Watch’s Facebook inbox.

 

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Victim 2- customers

The people who buy the products are most likely only buying out of pity for their friend or relative. They might be trying to support their friend but do not actually want the product. Have you seen the inflated prices? They have to be high in order to pay all the people up the pyramid.

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This is water available to purchase from Forever Living. 12 bottles for £14.76.

Here is exactly the same water from the same source, not from Forever Living.

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24 bottles for £12.72.

Forever Living sell at £1.23 a bottle, 53p from another company.

 

Victim 3- legitimate homeworkers/ small businesses

How many real small business people/ home workers and life coaches have been met with scepticism or an eye roll when they reveal what they do? People who have spent time and money and skills building up a real business are not taken seriously because MLM have sullied the reputation of genuine businesses.

Some reps describe themselves as life coaches, which must sting genuine life coaches who have had training and built up a reputation, helping people to make the best of their lives and overcome obstacles they are experiencing. Reps come along and call themselves coaches, with the express aim of recruiting people, coaching them to recruit people to coach them to recruit people to coach them to recruit….You get the idea.

 

Victim 4- The rep’s finances

It has been well established that it is impossible to earn a good wage in MLM, unless you are high up with the right connections. The people that earn money are reliant on having a large team beneath them, most of whom will lose money, before they feel a failure and slink off feeling worthless.

There have been many, many people coming forward with stories about losing money. Have a read of Elle Beau and her story of Younique. People hide their losses to themselves and family. Most do not even realise they are losing money because they do not keep a proper track of their expenses.

Victim 5- Women

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Women are targeted for this industry, often in a patronising way, using their vulnerabilities and patronising them along the way. What is this, the 1950’s? Have a look at Timeless Vie for some of their work on feminism and MLMs. This article is a particular eye opener.

Here is one example from Bot Watch’s inbox of vulnerable women being specifically targeted.

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Victim 6- free thought

It is becoming increasingly evident that MLMs are cults. People are subjected to techniques that condition people into thinking and speaking in a certain way. They are taught to ignore their inner questioning thoughts and to blindly do as they are told. They are conditioned to think all fault lies with them and anything good is down to the MLM. They speak of their team members as family and are encouraged to reject friends and family that raise concerns. This post goes into more detail about it.

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 Victim 7- People with health conditions

For some reason, many MLMs tout products with amazing properties that can cure any illness. People target sufferers with conditions and tell them their products can help. This is not only deceptive and fraudulent, but illegal and dangerous as well.

Truth In Advertising have looked at the bogus health claims made by MLMs and they came up with quite a list.

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DoTERRA got in trouble for saying their oils could cure Ebola and got in trouble with the FDA about it.

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Below is a common type of social media post. What are they trying to do? Tell you that any condition you have can be cured by their oils/ juices/ tablets/ coffee? Yes, that is exactly what they are doing. I hope that they are just deluded and really believe in their products. Because otherwise, they are deliberately getting people to spend over the odds on products that will have no effect on anyone’s health. At least it won’t improve any conditions.

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What to do about it

If you are an organiser of an event please consider banning MLMs from attending. People are becoming wise to them now and are are generally displeased when they see these stalls. People who do not know about them could be vulnerable to being recruited. This is especially bad when the event is a jobs fair, targeting a particular profession or aimed at people with health conditions or new parents. You could be enabling these companies to cause many problems for the people you are trying to serve.

If you see adverts for events that include MLMs please speak up about it. Read this article on what you can do to help.

If you have a friend or relative in an MLM and you want to help them, look here for inspiration.

If you are in an MLM yourself you might want to read ‘How to leave an MLM’ if you are at that point. If you are not sure what to do and are having a bit of a ‘moment’ and tying to work out what is going on, read this article on ‘having doubts‘. It might help clarify a few things.