Anti-MLM: are you likely to be targeted?

by Chloe Hendrie 4 months ago in industry

An exploration into the societal groups most likely to fall victim to multi-level marketing sales pitches.

Anti-MLM: are you likely to be targeted?

In my last article, I briefly touched on the history of multi-level marketing and how women are primarily targeted. In fact, according to the Direct Selling Association, only 26.5% of MLM reps are male whilst 73.5% are female – so for the purposes of this article, I’ll be discussing the targeting of women only.


This article is not aimed at anyone. I have no malice towards anyone who chooses to partake in multi-level marketing. This is simply me sharing my opinions on this particular business model (backed up by facts) with the aim of educating people on how MLMs operate.

Past v Present

As discussed in my previous piece, Avon was one of the first MLM companies to employ door-to-door sales reps back in 1886. Founder David McConnell took advantage of the fact that, at this point in time, the majority of women were stay-at-home mums and housewives who would often find themselves on the receiving end of door-to-door sales pitches (once again, I’ll attach this video which explains it all). McConnell knew he could make more sales by taking on women beneath him to help sell products which were primarily aimed at women – this also gave women who weren’t working a chance to earn a bit of income for themselves.

Although the methods may have changed, the notion of recruiting women from societal groups considered ‘lonely’ remains. Let’s explain.

We’ve established that MLMs primarily target women, but which groups of women are most likely to be targeted?

1. Military wives.

Women with husbands in the military (or even women with military backgrounds themselves) are easy targets for network marketers as they’re often required to move from place to place, meaning they find themselves in new areas with little to no support network. With signing up to a direct selling company comes promises of sisterhood, friendships, and social gatherings.

2. Single mums, new mums, and mums in general.

Many new mums face the struggle of wanting to get back into work as soon as they can after giving birth, yet being unable to because they need to stay at home with the baby (especially if they are single, or on the other hand, have a spouse/partner who is working). Mums are often left to feel guilty for not contributing to their household income, but also guilt tripped for going back to work too soon and not being there for their baby full-time – and this is where MLM reps see their opportunity.

They play up the ‘mum guilt’ and the emotive language, putting emphasis on the fact that as a working mum, you’re essentially missing your child growing up. They offer the solution of being able to work from home, and sometimes that’s all it takes to draw a vulnerable mum in.

Above: Cruel World Happy Mind discusses how mums in MLMs prey on other mums.

3. Instagram influencers, makeup artists, hairdressers, nutritionists…

The list goes on here. It goes without saying that Instagram is a platform where people promote their brand and showcase their success, whether they’re influencers, bloggers, designers, or (legitimate) business owners. Makeup artists will have accounts dedicated to their makeup, personal trainers and nutritionists will have accounts dedicated to their fitness, and vice versa. Where MLM reps would mostly target Facebook friends in days gone by, Instagram is becoming the new platform for selling and recruiting. Legitimate business owners - particularly those in the beauty and wellness industries - will often find themselves targeted by reps from companies such as Arbonne, who see the opportunity to recruit industry professionals (and in turn, their clients) to their downline.

Chloe Ferry (left, of Geordie Shore fame) and Rebecca Gormley (right, who appeared on Love Island and is also Miss Newcastle) are two influencers who have recently come under fire for promoting Herbalife and Arbonne respectively to their followings, who consist mostly of impressionable young women.

As a writer and blogger who generally likes to keep my Instagram looking pretty and consistent with a theme, I’ve found myself the victim of MLM sales pitches on multiple occasions since the start of the year - mostly from Arbonne and mostly using the term ‘brand ambassador’. This terminology is cleverly chosen because it conjures up the image of an influencer-style affiliate deal where you earn commission from promoting a product (and it should be noted that there is a stark difference between joining an affiliate scheme and joining a pyramid scheme).

4. The unemployed, those unable to work, or those affected by life-altering events.

Let’s get one thing straight: MLM reps often have no shame (here’s a worst case scenario in this video by Kiki Chanel). They see successful people higher up in the company who feed everyone the idea that it’s a wonderful thing. They have an upline constantly telling them that this is a wonderful thing. They drink the Kool-Aid. It reaches the point where they’re coerced into believing that they genuinely are promoting something great, which clouds over the reality that they’re making very little money.

Let’s say that, hypothetically, you are unemployed. Maybe you were made redundant, maybe you’re unable to work due to health issues, or maybe – as is the reality for many people the world over right now – the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed you out of work. Terrible as it sounds, a multi-level marketing rep will see this as an opportunity to recruit. Chances are they’re so brainwashed that they genuinely think they’re offering you a quality solution. They don’t understand how wrong (and often how insulting) it can be, which is why many will turn sour when you start pointing out facts.

Something to consider…

Much as we can criticise the business model, and may feel anger and frustration towards those caught up in it – it’s important to remember that ultimately, there is a real human being on the other end of the cold message – a human being who has probably been led to believe they’re doing something good.

So when you receive a sales pitch in your message requests, of course you’ll feel some initial annoyance. However, don’t act on this annoyance – ignoring the message is probably the easiest option, but if you wish you can also use it as a chance to educate (bear in mind, however, that they probably won’t take well to this).

Above: Monica Siembieda discusses the concept of 'anti-MLM vs anti-hun', something we should all think about.

Anti-MLM does not equal anti-women.

With the whole pyramid selling thing disguised under female empowerment and the ‘girlboss’ brand of feminism, the argument has arisen that being against multi-level marketing is synonymous with being against women. It’s not.

As both a woman and a vocal member of the anti-MLM movement, I see first-hand how these companies use predatory tactics to target women, and a huge part of the reason I write these articles is because I don’t want women to get caught up in it. If anything, being anti-MLM is pro-women.

Despite the targeting of the specific groups mentioned above, no one (male or female) is completely safe from the dreaded MLM sales pitch. In recent months, I’ve seen people from all walks of life get sucked in – students, graduates, influencers, sportspeople, even people who have studied business/marketing-related subjects who you’d think would be more clued up on all this stuff. However, it’s our responsibility as members of the anti-MLM community to remember, it’s the business model we’re against – not the people who have fallen victim to it.

Chloe Hendrie
Chloe Hendrie
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Chloe Hendrie

22yr old freelance writer in Glasgow, Scotland.

See all posts by Chloe Hendrie