How to Tell If a Multi-Level Marketing Company is Actually a Cult

If you’ve been on Facebook even once in your life you’re well aware of the multi-level marketing company takeover. You might have been agile enough to dodge invites to Mary Kay parties, but you surely still see MLM promotions popping up on the personal pages of family members. You most likely graduated high school with someone consulting with Scentsy, Rodan + Fields, or Younique and they’re littering your newsfeed with salesy status updates. A coworker might have added you to their online LuLaroe “party” without stopping to ask themselves if you even like leggings.

I’ve participated in Facebook wellness groups that were wrecked by Hempworx and Advocare before the admins could catch on. I’ve delicately avoided learning more about products pushed by the most recent MLM company to hijack a family member. Recently, I blocked an overzealous Thrive representative who’s behavior crossed the line between persistent salesmanship and bat-shit harassment. What the hell do they put in those vitamins anyway?

Worst of all, I’ve witnessed the pollution of female relationships by MLM companies. I’m over it. I’m putting my foot down. What I’m about to share might hurt some feelings. It might be a little ugly. Due to the nature of the topic and the limited length of this article, it will definitely be over-generalized. But here it is:

Multi-level marketing is a cult. And I’ll explain exactly why in less than 1000 words.

Before diving into an argument with such an obvious potential for controversy, I’ll begin by defining what I mean by “cult”. The word alone connotes the magnetic kind of terror that we just can’t look away from, the type that arouses our deepest morbid curiosity.

And while the Jonestown massacre, the Manson Family murders, and the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide are all truly bizarre, horrifying, and worthy holding space in the darkest corners of our imaginations, cults are often sinister in subtler, more insidious ways.

Which, in my opinion, is as wicked as it gets.

Before writing this article I researched cults and how they function. This, as you could imagine, led me down some deep, dark rabbit holes. I finally had to stop the madness and boil everything down to just a few things. A distilled essence of cults.

For the sake of this argument, cults are characterized by the organization of power, methods of recruitment, and the presence of brainwashing. Let’s take a look at how multi-level marketing companies score according to these three qualities.

Organization of Power

In a cult, power is top-heavy. It usually rests with a single person or a small, tight-knit leadership group. Members of a cult are expected to sacrifice time, energy, family, and even their identities in the interest of the leader(s). If the energy of the collective is directed anywhere other than the top, it is only to protect and prolong the organization itself. A cult is driven by exploitation.

Obviously, in the multi-level marketing game, the ultimate goal is to make money. More specifically, the birth of an MLM is inspired by someone’s desire to make as much money as they can for themselves at the expense of others.

According to this report by By Jon M. Taylor of the Consumer Awareness Institute, 99.7% of individuals that join MLM’s lose money, while companies running under this business model raked in billions last year. The multi-level marketing giant Amway reported sales of $8.8 billion in 2018. Avon reported $5.7 billion. Herbalife, $4.4 billion.

A perfect illustration of exploitation within the MLM world is the recent allegations against Lularoe. In 2017, the company incurred a $1 billion dollar lawsuit for encouraging consultants to take on credit card debt and even sell their breast milk to buy more inventory. Quite a sacrifice to benefit CEO Mark Stidham who, by the way, has never produced breast milk of his own.

In March of this year, former Lularoe consultants filed a class action lawsuit, claiming that the company “is a fraudulent pyramid scheme that preys on stay-at-home mothers”. Profiting at the expense of mothers and children, Lularoe brought in $2.3 billion in 2017. However, mounting allegations of fraud and a mass exodus of sellers suggest a toppling empire.

Methods of Recruitment

There is a common pattern of tactics cults use to recruit new followers. They often begin by extending an invitation to a non-threatening event such as a potluck or an informational meeting. They also frequently use a manipulative technique called “love bombing”. This might sound nice, but it’s a form of psychological abuse in which victims are showered with affection and gifts as a means to secure their loyalty. Additionally, leaders may dangle a prize in front of prospects by sharing stories of how easy life can be if you commit to walking their path.

These tactics are paralleled in the infamous Mary Kay party. First, you’re invited by a consultant to an obligation-free makeover (non-threatening event), then made-up to feel beautiful with company products and given free samples (love bombing). Before you leave, a distributor will preach the gospel of Mary Kay and tempt you with their story of success (prize dangling).

Multi-level marketing companies and cults both recruit by selling a false dream.

A cult leads prospective members to believe that by joining they can gain spiritual freedom. Release from fear, pain, and lack. Jim Jones promised equality and exemption from oppression to his members. Charles Manson promised a loving family and a spot next to the world leader after the Helter Skelter race war. Scientology promises recruits the ability to control everything within their worlds, including other people.

Multi-level marketing companies also seduce individuals with the bogus promise of freedom. The difference is that instead of preaching spiritual liberation, they evangelize financial independence. As I pointed out before, this is a statistical lie. Only 0.03% of MLM recruits make any money at all.


Brainwashing is a term you’re probably familiar with but in the interest of my argument, I’ll share the Merriam-Webster definition here:

Persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship. Need I say more?

So what?

Look, my point is not to shame anyone involved in multi-level marketing. I’m simply highlighting the ways in which these companies tend to take advantage of golden-hearted people who want nothing more than a better life for themselves and their families.

If you’re thinking about giving one of these companies a try, please do your research.

Already involved in one? Ask yourself if you feel exploited or manipulated in any way.

And if the answer is yes, GTFO, my friend.

This content was originally published here.

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