MLM's & Commercial Cults
NOTE: This resource page is a walk-the-talk example of consent-based marketing. For anti-rape culture and trauma-sensitive reasons, I don't do email opt-ins or "freebies. You're welcome to consensually join our non-spammy newsletter anytime by [clicking here].
Dear Fellow MLM Survivor,
Deconstructing your "lipstick evangelism" might not be easy, but I've learned it to be so worth it. On this page are some of the self-hosted and outside resources that I frequently reference while working with business owners with experiences similar to yours.
Everything on this page is freely available because:
- Organizational Trauma suuuuuuucks, doesn't it?!
- You're my kinda people! (I'm a trauma survivor too.)
- I am always down to commiserate with clients when they need to vent with "I can't believe how fill in the blank that MLM was!" because, boy, do I get it.
As the founding director of Peterson Resilience Consulting, I have a personal history with MLMs, commercial cults, and adverse religious experiences. They are firmly rooted in my business beginnings and entrepreneurial heritage (at least 3 generations deep, yikes!)
Peterson Resilience Consulting supports entrepreneurial survivors of multilevel marketing, commercial cults, and other high-control organizations, including religions. I don't do "sales calls," (yuck!) but if you ever want to schedule a coffee/tea chat, I'd absolutely be down for something like that, click here for the scheduling link.
Peterson Resilience Consulting
PS - Feel free to share this page with whomever you'd like or connect with me on LinkedIn!
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for survivors of MLMs & commercial cults
under construction! come back soon for more or send me an email if you see something missing!
The Federal Trade Commission says...
- The Telltale Signs of a Pyramid Scheme (Federal Trade Commission, Aditi Jhaveri, 5/13/2014)
- The Case (for and) Against MLMs (Federal Trade Commission, Jon M Taylor, MBA, PhD, 2011)
- MLMs Abysmal Numbers (Federal Trade Commission, Jon M Taylor, MBA, PhD, 2011)
- A Litany of Misrepresentations (Federal Trade Commission, Jon M Taylor, MBA, PhD, 2011)
- MLMs Abysmal Numbers (Federal Trade Commission, Jon M Taylor, MBA, PhD, 2011)
- Tracking Your MLM Finances (spreadsheet, via AntiMLM.org)
- Letter Template to a Friend in an MLM (via AntiMLM.org) — for when you get added to that Facebook group or when someone pops up in your DM's
- Complaint Letter Template (via BotWatchBlog.com) — for when you want to let your boss or school admin know that someone is exploiting their organization for an MLM's benefit.
- TruthInAdvertising.org's Class-Action Tracker — try searching for an MLM to see if a class action lawsuit pops up! (ex: Young Living has several.)
- IsThisAnMLM.com — to verify your spidey senses when someone DM's you
Forums & Organizations
Guides, Histories, & Infographics
- Investopedia's Definition of an MLM — just to make if official ;-)
- So You Wanna Do The Secret Sister Thing? (infographic)
- A Great Business Opportunity for *Who?!* (infographic)
- The Dirty, Ugly History of MLMs (by Daniel May, Medium, 2019)
- How to Get a Friend Out of an MLM (Vice, 10/22/2018)
- A *Really Long* List of Anti-MLM YouTubers
- The Master List of MLMs
News Articles & Blog Posts
- The Internet is Starting to Turn on MLMs (The Atlantic, 12/17/2020)
- Hey, Hun! In women’s joblessness, multi-level marketers saw opportunity (by Bridget Read, The Cut, 2/3/2021)
- Women on TikTok are Leading the Anti-Multi-Level Marketing Movement (Refinery29, 4/8/2021)
- How the Pandemic Stoked Backlash Against Multilevel Marketing (The Atlantic, 1/27/2021)
- 99% Of MLM Businesses Lose Money, But Women Are Still Signing On (by Valerie Williams, Scary Mommy, 8/17/2017)
- Pandemic Schemes: How Multilevel Marketing Distributors Are Using the Internet—and the Coronavirus—to Grow Their Businesses (by Abby Vesoulis, TIME Magazine, 7/9/2020)
- MLMs Are A Nightmare For Women And Everyone They Know (Huffington Post, 1/29/2021)
- 6 Reasons Why MLM Companies are the Absolute Worst (Traveling Jezebel, 1/30/2020)
- The Likelihood of MLM Success: Success Rates, Failure Rates, and Tips for MLM Businesses (The Balance Small Business, Mindy Lilyquist, 3/23/2021)
Watch our favorites all in a row!
for survivors of MLM's & commercial cults
Trailer Playlist Descriptions
- [Un]Well; Episode 1, Essential Oils (links to Netflix) — this docu-series takes a deep-dive into the lucrative wellness industry, which touts health and healing. But do the products live up to the promises? Essential oils were once fringe but are now at the center of billion-dollar multilevel marketing companies, plant extracts may help us cope with anxiety, but are they a remedy?
- Money Explained; Episode 1, Get Rich Quick (links to Netflix) — We spend it, borrow it, and save it. Now let's talk about money and its many minefields. Why do people keep falling for financial scams? Dive into the history of con artists and how technology makes it easier for these schemes to flourish.
- Betting on Zero — Writer/director Ted Braun ('Darfur Now') follows controversial hedge fund titan Bill Ackman as he puts a billion dollars on the line in his crusade to expose Herbalife as the largest pyramid scheme in history. The battle between Ackman and Herbalife plays out in the media, in board rooms, and on the streets in Braun's stirring picture of the American Dream gone wrong.
- LulaRich (links to Amazon Prime)— a four-part docu-series that chronicles the unraveling of LuLaRoe. Known for their buttery soft leggings, the infamous multi-level marketing company went viral promising young mothers a work-from-home salvation. LuLaRoe's eccentric founders recruited an astonishing army of independent retailers to peddle its increasingly bizarre and defective clothing products...until it all went wrong.
- Seduced: Inside The NXIVM Cult (links to Amazon Prime) —This four-part documentary series by STARZ chronicles the extraordinary and harrowing journey of India Oxenberg - the daughter of a Hollywood actress and a descendant of European royalty - who was seduced into the modern-day sex-slave cult NXIVM, where she spent seven years along with over 17,000 other people who all enrolled in NXIVM's "Executive Success Programs".
- Secrets of the Multi-Level Millionaires: Ellie Undercover (links to BBC) — Journalist Ellie Flynn goes undercover to investigate a multibillion-pound online selling industry that mostly targets young women with the opportunity to earn big money. Ellie digs deeper into two companies, she uncovers a darker side behind these enticing Instagram posts and investigates accusations of illegal pyramid selling, systematic targeting of vulnerable people by recruiters and even brainwashing.
Lessons from Dandelions on Defiance & Social Justice featuring Kate Fontana
How to Be a Better Ally for Social Justice featuring Dr. Joy Cox
The Road Back to You & How The Enneagram Can Help featuring Ian Cron
Your 3 Word Rebellion featuring Dr. Michelle Mazur
Truth, Trauma, and Open-Handed Slaps to the Face featuring Kye Alfred Hillig
How to Find Your Purpose in the Midst of Transition featuring Jonathan DeWaal
Hiding Under Desks, Prioritizing Pain and Other Hard Things featuring Jessica Ribera
How to Edit Your Writing with Powerful Authenticity featuring Karin Stevens
How to Stand in Unshakeable Truth featuring Vicki Ambinder
How to Be Wrong & Stay Listening featuring Andy Zook
How to Be Everything & Never Fit In a Box featuring Emilie Wapnick
How to Grieve Beautifully & Collaborate Generously featuring Holli Margell
We Are Not Mere Objects: Surviving Sexual Assault featuring Sarah Jane
At Death's Door, Fighting For Life & Loving with Your Whole Heart featuring Jake Hemming
Podcasts & Long-Form Stories
**VERY IMPORTANT TRIGGER WARNING**
It can be extremely freeing and empowering to hear echoes of your own experience in others' stories. It can also be a minefield for triggers. Please carefully listen to your own needs while listening to the stories below. You're also free to send me an email if you'd like help in pre-vetting content. :-)
2021: The 22nd Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers. Virtual Event: AoIR.
A Culture of Entitlement: Cult Indoctrination Tactics and Consent Violations in American Christianity thesis by Wilson, C. Chicago Theological Seminary, 2021
Selling Soap and Salvation’: Billy Graham’s Consumer Rhetoric in Germany and the United States in the 1950s journal article by by Uta Balbier in American Studies, vol. 59, no. 2, 2014, pp. 137–152
The Influence of Religiosity on Consumer Ethical Judgments and Responses Toward Sexual Appeals journal article by Sanjay Putrevu and Krist Swimberghek in Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 115, no. 2, 2013, pp. 351–365
Ritual Abuse and Mind Control book by Orit Badouk Epstein, Joseph Schwartz, and Rachel Wingﬁeld Schwartz in book titled Ritual Abuse and Mind Control, 155–168, 2011
Minton, E. A. (2015). In Advertising We Trust: Religiosity's Influence on Marketplace and Relational Trust. Journal of Advertising, 44(4), 403–414. "Most religious consumers are more trusting of advertising than nonreligious consumers are. Advertisers need to seek a balance between targeting religious because of a heightened sense of trust yet not taking advantage of these more trusting consumers. In addition to advertising ethics, this research provides insight to advertisers in integrating belief cues into advertisements. Thus, advertisers need to understand the religious composition of their target market and be aware of the differential influence of belief cues on product evaluations for religious versus nonreligious consumers. Advertisers desiring to offer brand extensions to niche religious markets may be able to do so through use of subtle belief cues, which will likely not detract from a neutral religious stance of a brand as a whole."
How to Win Friends and Convert People: Onnie Jay Holy and the Sales Culture of American Evangelicalism journal article by Michael D. Odom in Flannery O’Connor Review, vol. 11, 2013, pp. 123–135
Why Evangelicals Like Wal-Mart: Education, Region, and Religious Group Identity journal article by Rebekah Peeples Massengill in Sociology of Religion, vol. 72, no. 1, 2011, pp. 50–77
Bigger, Better, Louder: The Prosperity Gospel’s Impact on Contemporary Christian Worship journal article by Kate Bowler and Reagan Wen in Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, vol. 24, no. 2, 2014, pp. 186–230.
The Influence of Christian Religiosity on Managerial Decisions Concerning the Environment journal article by Cui, Jinhua, et al. in the Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 132, no. 1, 2015, pp. 203–231.
Saffer, A. (2021). Promoting the Faith: Examining Megachurches' Audience-Centric Advertising Strategies on Social Media. Journal of Advertising. "Advertisers looking to increase online engagement should focus their efforts on persuasive messages that include the object-audience engagement strategy."
McAlexander, J. H., Dufault, B. L., Martin, D. M., & Schouten, J. W. (2014). The Marketization of Religion: Field, Capital, and Consumer Identity. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(3), 858–875. "Consumers face severe crises of identity and the need to rebuild their self-understandings in an unfamiliar marketplace of identity resources. Unable to remain comfortably in the ﬁeld of their primary socialization, they are nevertheless bound to it by investments in field specific capital. In negotiating this dilemma, they demonstrate the inseparability and co-constitutive nature of ideology and consumption."
McKinnon, A. M. (2013). Ideology and the Market Metaphor in Rational Choice Theory of Religion: A Rhetorical Critique of ‘Religious Economies.’ Critical Sociology, 39(4), 529–543.
Ruhr, M., & Daniels, J. P. (2012). Subsidizing Religious Participation Through Groups: A Model of the “Megachurch” Strategy for Growth. Review of Religious Research, 53(4), 471–491
Tourish, D. (2005). Charismatic Leadership and Corporate Cultism at Enron: The Elimination of Dissent, the Promotion of Conformity and Organizational Collapse. Leadership, 1(4), 455–480
Tourish, D., & Pinnington, A. (2002). Transformational Leadership, Corporate Cultism and the Spirituality Paradigm: An Unholy Trinity in the Workplace? Human Relations, 55(2), 147–172.