Declining Alternative Medicine and Network
(“Multi-Level”) Marketing in One Blow
(And why you should decline them, too)
A colleague just called to enlist my help with his newest client, a multi-level marketer selling essential oils for use in aromatherapy.
Those are two industries I won’t touch.
Why I won’t accept multi-level marketing clients (MLMs)
With precious few if any exceptions, MLMs make money by selling a pyramid-style dream that happens to be unattainable. Do the math, and you’ll see what I mean. Or, pick up a copy of Brian Dunning’s delightful and informative book Skeptoid 4: Astronauts, Aliens, and Ape-Men. You won’t have to read far: Chapter 1 is devoted to exposing “network” or “multi-level” marketing. I recommend the whole chapter (actually, the whole book), though this excerpt alone should sober the most hopeful, starry-eyed, would-be marketer:
“Of all the thousands of network marketing plans available now or in the past, if only one of them had ever had even a single line active to only 14 levels deep, that alone would have required the participation of more human beings than exist.”
Dunning didn’t pull 14 levels out of the air. As he explains, that number is the basis of most MLM pitches.
Why I won’t accept “Complementary and Alternative Medicine” clients
“If you were persuaded that aroma therapy doesn’t work,” I asked my friend, “would you have compunctions about marketing this product?” You’d be surprised at the number of marketing professionals it wouldn’t trouble. To his credit, my friend told me he would definitely have compunctions.
That being the case, it was worth my time to do some digging. I followed up with this email:
Good to hear from you. Let’s not allow years to pass again before the next conversation.
CAM (“Complementary and Alternative Medicine”) is a topic on which I’ve absorbed much information over the years, such that distilling my objections is difficult. In a nutshell, claims about alt med tend not to be scientific but anecdotal (“my mom tried it and it cured her” / “thousands of testimonials from happy customers”), and are often supported by a bit of conspiracy theory (“big medicine / big pharma doesn’t want you to know about this”). Most important, they are utterly unsupported by hard scientific evidence. Otherwise they are called “medicine.” No “alt.”
Purveyors of alt med are glib, well-rehearsed in rebutting science. Many are sincere, fully convinced of their own PR. They are persuasive. They can produce so-called “clinical reports” and “clinical studies.” Worse, they can always find a doc somewhere to back them up. Dr. Oz is a good example. Otherwise a competent doc, he routinely promotes nonsense, such as reiki. Alas.
I’m sparing you a mountain of links. I think this one provides a good starting point, especially since it touches on aromatherapy. Author Steven Novella, MD, is a neurologist and champion of science-based medicine. He knows his stuff and is highly reliable. If you want to dig deeper, I’d encourage you to use the blog’s search feature. Then you’ll have that mountain of links after all.
I also highly recommend the book Trick or Treatment? by Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh. Ernst is the world’s first professor of complementary medicine. Happily, he also happens to be a responsible scientist. Singh is a respected science writer. The book is fair, balanced, and, mercifully, eminently readable.
Often a question arises along the line of, “OK, fine, it doesn’t work, but what’s the harm? What if it creates a helpful placebo response?” Whole ’nother question. I’ll address it if you want. Short answer: it causes oodles of harm.
I personally urge you to dump this client, earnings potential and all. I guarantee they cannot provide valid (“valid” being the key word) evidence to back their claims.
There’s no sure way to tell a friend that he or she has bought into flimflam without offending. From the tone of the conversation, including the personal catching up that followed the business discussion, I believe no offense was taken. That may be due more to my friend’s good character. My tact skills need work.
I hope he tells the client to take a hike. If he does, and if he lets me know, I’ll let you know in a future post.