Impressions: ACN Scam Multi-Level Marketing
Yesterday (22 Aug 2015), I entertained a request from a friend to attend one of those recruiting seminars for a multi level marketing “business opportunity” with ACN. Basically, I had enough of people rebuffing me saying “you can’t diss it because you haven’t tried it”, as if one needs to be a member of an organisation to point out the inherent flaws in their system.
Anyway, I arrived an hour late at the Hilton Hotel in Edgeware Road, London. I had just dropped off a friend at Gatwick Airport, effectively missing an hour long drivel about the history of the ACN. It was perhaps the only good thing that happened that day for me. I had a bad feeling that the event was to be a rather dreary long sit. It turned out that the whole experience (the whole 5 hours of it) was an utter complete waste of my time… and £19 I paid for parking.
In a nutshell, ACN is basically a supplier of several products and a hub of services. Customers can choose to buy exclusively from its representatives/members. No issues there. However, the emphasis of the company is really in the multi-level networking that it inherently is. I persevered through a really long-winded explanation of the simple premise of how members can earn the stupid amounts of money that ACN tells its members – that is, recruit people and get your recruits to recruit others.
I’ll get back to this in a bit.
The rest of the afternoon was broken down by several rousing speeches from ACN hierarchical representatives from Team Coordinators to Regional Vice Presidents. One by one, they spoke about several key things that a new member will have to do to start racking in the cash. They have all sorts of abbreviations for terms regarding your level in the hierarchy, to business value points that you need too accrue to even entertain the idea of getting some pennies coming in to your account. PBV, GBV, IBO and such terms. I reckon they probably use as much abbreviations as we have in the Army. That’s very intimidating for the uninitiated!
The first guy whose name I think was John MacDougal, enticed us that the annual membership was reduced to £48 instead of £75, especially for attendees of that Hilton Hotel event. This is to cover the joining administration and settng up an online shop that will become that individual’s store-front. I had already began to loose interest. It’s not that hard to make an e-commerce website! I persevered to listen to the unending drivel, reminiscent of the days when I had to sit through lectures on why glaciers melt. I kept an open mind but it soon became apparent how ludicrous it was that they wanted us to also buy a £430 + VAT business starter pack. They recommend that recruits must try it for themselves and feel the difference the products will make to their lives so that they can confidently endorse the products to their family/friends/etc. Failing that, give these as samples to potential customers. Except you only get about 15 or so different items in it…
Including 2 free spatulas. A bit steep for samples eh…?
The song and dance continued with more talks about how liberating it was for members when the money starts racking in. At about 2pm, the session went on a break. My other friend, Paolo, also was brought in by our friend Jack, was dragged along to this event and together we were approached by a ACN members, being very polite and asking us if we had any questions about the company. I had a Nepalese girl called Asha approach me and we had a 1 to 1 conversation. She opened a notebook filled with her handwritten prompts complete with scenario answers and it was as if I was being a guinea pig for her to test her previous training, with the aim of recruiting me into the company. She thought it was helpful to recap what I may have missed at the beginning of the day and uuuugh, I thought I was rid of those unnecessary and boring background details. I was proven wrong. There was no escape!
I tried to steer us away from her unleashing all the boring details about ACN so I changed the subject and directly voiced my qualms about ACN. Basically, I told her that how can one possibly sell these goods when they are priced so ridiculously. She told me she has been with ACN for a year so I asked her what her past earnings were. She hesitated to give me an answer saying she had lost track. Eventually, she gave me what seemed like a random figure – around £8000 she said. What sort of sane, competent business person doesn’t keep track of his profits? Does she not have a cash flow?
To make things easier, I thought, perhaps her previous tax declaration would help her remind herself and give me a ball park figure of how much she’s earned in the last tax year. Again, she couldn’t answer me. In fact, she seemed absolutely clueless as to what I meant by taxes and Inland Revenue procedures with regards to additional incomes. She then called for assistance from one of the Regiona Vice President named Dr Arfat Chughtai*. (I didn’t know what he was a Dr on, and the internet doesn’t even provide any credentials for this seemingly successful man, apart from his links to ACN.). At the end of it, she couldn’t give me a concrete and satisfying answer so I assumed, in the year she’s been with ACN, she has not earn a single (taxable) income. PROMISING…DODGY!
*ok. It turns out Dr Chughtai is a director of an IT Consultancy called HORIZON IT & MARKETING SERVICES LIMITED. (CompanyCheck.co.uk, 2015)
Here’s a short video of a similar dubious and questionable (illegal) advise given by one of ACN representatives regard tax in the US.
Anyway, the hour break was over and we continued the afternoon with the Leadership Training . It gave us an insight to the similar events that ACN runs as part of its dedicated training for its members. What new members didn’t (doesn’t) know is that these are not normally free. It was all very enticing to see members get involved with the roleplaying of scenarios depicting challenges that members are likely to encounter when dealing with the general public they’re trying to recruit. Again, this was very reminiscent of my experience in Sunday Schools while I was growing up in the Philippines. There’s a lot of enacting of situations as a way to equip its members tools in the form of prepared answers on how to deal with their objections and protestations. Really, this was brainwashing in disguise. Christians and other religious organisations have apologetics similar to this.
Later on, we were introduced to the expansive ecosystem that ACN operates including operations in several countries. In a micro-scale operations, we were then introduced to the Benevita Health Challenge. Members present in the room pledged to use ACN branded products from the Benevita range achieve one of these aims for at least 30 days:
- Lose weight
- Improve energy levels and maintain healthy living
- Build muscles
All, obviously, noble reasons. Handily, there is a cause to commit to and immerse oneself to the ACN ecosystem…
Except the prices for these products are stupidly ridiculous!
£67£90 from their website! for some shake formula!? A Maximuscle Weight Loss shake only cost me £44! For example.
£19 for a small bottle of shampoo? That’s at least 9 (bigger) bottles for a leading supermarket brand.
Here’s an example of those store-end front. Feel free to buy, if you have some serious cash to burn.
Now, of course, as a businessman, you want to sell as many of these as possible to earn enough commission points in order for the cash to come in to your pockets. Now that’s where the problem lies. Consumer appetite for products unheard of and the ridiculous price attached to them mean you have double the amount of hurdles to even get a sale! Who would actually pay for these at daylight-robbery prices? Especially when more popular brands, with proven positive results, are more accessible and at much cheaper prices available elsewhere.
I asked Asha, my Nepalese ACN representative, if she would buy a bottle of shampoo that will only last 15 washes (if that) for £20? She hesitated and her answer of “ummm. Yes. Because it’ll be good for the business” seemed really forced and unconfident.
Other avenues of income generation were also mentioned such as getting your customers to switch their utility services. Would you really switch your mobile contract to some unheard of company called Joi Networks (a Sim only network joyriding on 3, I guess in a similar vein as how GiffGaff latches on to o2)? Unlike GiffGaff, there doesn’t seem to be any reviews on the reliability of their services online or how their customer service deals with complaints. That’s not a good sign. Suddenly, the core of the business which is either to sell or get your customer to switch services becomes a very difficult job to get up and running.
If you can’t sell, no money will come in. Simple as! You won’t be able to recoup the £75 annual membership cost and £430 business product pack!
To add some veneer of credibility, a series of short clips of their high-flying American affiliates like Darren Hardy were also played in between workshops and role plays. In one of the videos, he advocates the insistent will to keep going. This echoes the sentiment: “try and try until you succeed”. Of course that is another noble thing to aspire to but if you’re having to spend £430 worth of products to, say for the sake or argument, put on 1kg of muscle mass, would you continue to do it, even when another product that may only cost you £33 does the same, backed by thousands of reviews from independent consumers?
In another video, he encourages that “people must do what they don’t want to do. Disregard the fear. Go ahead!” I’m not going to say a blanket no to this, as I myself have done things that were outrageously bonkers (join the Army for one) but alarm bells were seriously going mental in my head. This screamed “BRAINWASHING” alert to me. Darren Hardy is an affiliate of ACN, of course he will say that!
Throughout the day, random people would shout affirmations and agreement to whatever the speaker was saying. It was very similar to people shouting “Amen” or “inshallah” in those church/mosques gatherings I’ve been in. Really off-putting!
To be fair, everyone was very friendly and seemingly approachable but I can’t help but think these people were so sucked into the scam, blinded by what they can potentially earn and so oblivious of how unfavourable the whole premise of the business is to the individual in the lower tiers. I turned back to Asha and enquired about her job. She told me that previously, she used to juggle 4 separate jobs. She has now reduced it to 2, her main full time job as an admin person for a recruiting agency and ACN. When I asked her, if you were earning such good money with ACN, how come you’re still working as an admin person for a recruitment company?
Towards the end, in one of those role playing sessions they had to answer common objections they encounter when presenting ACN to the possible recruit. It was the claim: “I heard you’re an illegal pyramid scheme. I’m uncomfortable with that, so on that no. I’m not interested.” One of their Regional Vice President Prof Doug Juru tried to answer it with (paraphrased): There will be people that are not worth your time. It will be wise to move on. You are not there to please everyone.” Wow. Great answer.
As the day drew close, they presented us with a video on the conventions they hold every now and then. These were places where ‘recognitions’ where made to highlight high achieving members and I guess, tailor the event to grunts can learn and be inspired from their successes. It just reminded me of Evangelical Christian conventions where people are singing, dancing, pretending to be healed and speaking in tongues. They reiterated so many times that being an ACN member is not about using and selling the products but more of the sharing the good news. Sounds familiar? Yes, I guess this is turning into a modern religion, one way or the other given the seemingly rise of their membership.
To sum up, the whole seminar reminded me of how Jehova Witnesses and similar religious peoople run their gatherings (*Ahem* Church of God in the Philippines)… Very much like an indoctrination programme. There are massive brainwashing activities involved and unfortunately, there are enough impressionable individuals out there who are lured into the trap of making a quick buck with ACN. A quick google search about ACN in forums are filled with one-off commenters who give ACN praises. It beggars belief that ACN hires people to scour the net to sign up to these forums as one time members, flood these comments and disappear in anonymity and non-transparency of their online identities.
It fills me with so much resentment that my good natured friends are falling victims to the false hope ACN initially provides because they don’t know any better. That and I had to miss lunch for this event, pay £19 for parking at the Hotel and I left without no freebies. Not even a pen.
On a related note Amway operates in a similar way. My friend James actually invited to join him at his venture about 2 months ago but upon reading the materials that this random American girl named Diana, I decided that it wasn’t foor me. The difference is that Amway seems to have a wider range of (awfully and equally) expensive (- £15 for 50ml mouthwash??) products too choose from. Still, the scammy premise was the same.
VERDICT: CULTISH SCAM!
Please do yourself a favour and avoid it. This goes well for USANA, Forever Living, etc!