When will companies learn? Trying to silence critics of them with bogus threats of legal action just isn’t effective. We have something called “freedom of speech” here which guarantees us the right to speak our minds, so long as we’re being truthful. Yet that doesn’t stop multi-level marketing companies from trying to bully their critics.
You may remember last year when big bad attorney Gerald Nehra started threatening bloggers who were expressing their opinions on ShopToEarn (aka Shop to Earn, Shop to Earth, or STE). The funniest part about this was that it all started with a blogger who was pretty even-handed with the company. He pointed out some drawbacks and concerns he had, but wasn’t totally against people giving it a try.
The blog post generated enough interest and traffic, however, that Shop To Earn was worried. Nehra fired off a couple of emails threatening the blogger, and even went so far as to demand that he take down his entire blog. I started writing about STE, and quickly got my own threatening email from Nehra. I carried on writing about Shop To Earn, and so did several other bloggers. The more they tried to silence us, the more we ended up writing.
When will these attorneys learn that trying to stifle legitimate criticism of the multi-level marketing setups and pyramid schemes only gives them more negative publicity?
The latest company trying to silence critics is MonaVie. I’ve written about this company before. It’s your typical multi-level marketing (MLM) company with a goal of endless chain recruitment. It sells “magic” juice that retails for $39 for a bottle the size of a wine bottle. And while the juice might have good stuff in it, a. you can get juice that is just as nutritious for a fraction of the cost, and b. the thinly veiled miracle health claims made by representatives are illegal and unproven.
Here’s my original write-up on Mona Vie. The company is a typical MLM… Get people to recruit under the guise of selling a miracle product, and make them purchase minimums of the product to “qualify” for commissions. If enough people buy their monthly minimum of $130, then the company is raking in millions of dollars each month. Who cares if they can ever sell the overpriced juice? Certainly not the company and its executives.
The criticisms of this business model are certainly warranted. While peddling “financial freedom” and “extra income” for ordinary people, the Mona Vie recruiters are conveniently leaving out one key fact: The bottom 99% of distributors receive an average of $3.75 a week in commissions. These MLM schemes work for almost no one, yet recruiting is still successful because consumers want to believe they have a chance to be one of the very, very few successful participants.
MLM companies have done so well in part because of the lack of information. They have millions of distributors (almost none who are actually making any money) singing the praises of these companies. Of course they’re saying great things! They want to recruit you! They’re not going to tell you they haven’t made any money.
The real story… the one that reveals most people lose money in these schemes… simply wasn’t available to any great extent. But over the past several years, the negative side of MLM has been gaining traction. Sites like Pyramid Scheme Alert and Pink Truth are getting more information into the hands of consumers so they can make better choices. (better = avoid MLMs)
In come the lawyers! Lazy Man and Money is being threatened by the Mona Vie lawyers. What did the author of that site dare to do? He mentioned the name MonaVie. That’s right. “Trademark infringement!” is the cry of the lawyers:
MonaVie LLC (MonaVie) has been informed of the website(s) http://www.lazymanandmoney.com/monavie-scam-was-my-wife-recruited-sell-snake-oil/ registered through Go Daddy Domains. As the registrant, MonaVie asks that you remove all references to MonaVie and its products.
As a network marketing company MonaVie does not permit its name to be used in any URL or email address and the company must take necessary action to protect its intellectual property. It is not permitted for a third party vendor to use the MonaVie trade name in any form.
You don’t have to be a lawyer to know how silly such a claim is. Uttering a brand name or a company name isn’t trademark infringement. It’s the appropriate way to identify a product. By its name. Duh.
Lazy Man’s real infraction against Mona Vie was printing a negative article about MonaVie which got lots of attention from consumers doing research. He asked whether the company was a scam, and basically concluded they are selling something akin to snake oil:
The Price of MonaVie
The business behind the juice detracts from it’s value. The juice itself is not cheap. It’s $40 a bottle with a bottle lasting only around one week. That means you can expect to pay around $175 a month for this juice. For many people, that’s a significant car payment. For this kind of money, one would expect some sort of guarantee, perhaps a popular, publicly-traded, pharmaceutical company standing behind it. The company also doesn’t publish how much of the acai berry is each bottle.
MonaVie and Multi-Level Marketing (MLM)
Beyond Monavie juice being expensive, it is sold by distributors who are compensated in based on a multi-level marketing structure. Some of you familiar with Amway or Quixtar might understand how this works. For those who are new to multi-level marketing, the goal of the organization is to recruit more sellers and “incentivize” them for recruiting them. I’m not a big fan of such systems, it seems like the founders of the company always make a fair amount, and the people that join later end up with few sales and no one else to recruit.
The people the other night were trying to coerce my wife to buy two bottles, at nearly $100, and potentially become a distributor. My wife balked at such a thing, largely because she knew that I would want to do some research before spending that kind of money. They ended up giving her two bottles of juice to try for free. I fear that my wife may notice a placebo effect and grow a taste for the expensive juice.
Lazy Man gave a fair analysis. He considered that MonaVie might not be an outright scam. Yes, the juice has nutritional value. And I suppose consumers are welcome to grossly overpay for their nutrition if they so choose.
But I bet he comes back to the conclusion that I always seem to when looking at multi-level marketing… The product is merely the “front” for the recruiting aspect of the company. Sure, the product has value. But it is very overpriced, and is simply used as a tool that makes the “opportunity” seem more legitimate. Recruiters are able to say… “Oh no, you don’t have to recruit. You can make money just selling the juice.” (Knowing darn well that once the person signs up, the squeeze will be put on for them to start recruiting.)
Remember, dear readers, that the people trying to promote MLMs and build their pyramids seem to stop at nothing to push their wares. They’ve even gone so far as to falsely claim that Oprah uses and/or endorses Mona Vie or acai berry products. I’m skeptical of any action on the part of MLMs, particularly these hogwash legal claims by overzealous attorneys who think their scare tactics will stop the “negative nellies” from pointing out the flaws in MLM.
Ask yourself why it’s so important for Mona Vie to keep negative information and opinions off the internet?