Network Marketing Parties: Opportunity or Emotional Blackmail?

by Marla Walters on 3 November 2009 23 comments

After my first Arbonne “party” last weekend, I made a list of the other product sales “parties” I have attended. Can you match this?

  • Pampered Chef
  • Princess House
  • Mary Kay
  • Tupperware
  • Christmas Around the World
  • Party-Lite
  • Oriflame
  • Amway
  • Stampin’ Up

As it turns out, I have been to nineteen of these things (some two or three times). I guess that makes me quite the party animal.

“Network marketing is the future!” proclaimed the Arbonne representative. Network marketing and Multi-level marketing are terms that can be used interchangeably. The concept is that products are sold by an individual, but a distributor network is needed to build the business. Interpersonal relationships and word of mouth are relied upon to market and sell. If I like a moisturizer from Mary Kay, the idea is, I’ll tell my girlfriend about it. In multi-level marketing, sellers get paid for their own sales plus the sales of others whom they bring into the company. In “direct sales,” the agent deals directly with customers, and usually in a party atmosphere. These aren’t new concepts — I remember my mother going to Tupperware parties in the seventies.

In case you haven’t ever attended one of these shindigs, here is the rundown. You receive an invitation to a party. When you arrive, there is usually a demonstration of the product(s) (often hands-on), a sales pitch, and then the check-writing begins. There is often a further pitch to host your own party or become a team member, yourself. Also included is a personal testimonial by the hostess, or presenter, about what a life-changing event it was, becoming involved with their company. Afterwards, food is served.

In discussing this story idea with my friend, MZ, she said, “I’m always getting invited to those things, but I never go. Sometimes I feel guilty, though, so I buy something from the hostess without going to the party.” Lisa from TerriO, who has participated in network marketing, says “Sometimes when my friends sell products, I feel obligated and sometimes, I'm interested in the products.” To get really introspective, is this what friendship is all about? I honestly believe that if I refused these invitations, my girlfriends would pretend to understand, but they’d really be disappointed, and perhaps a little angry, with me. It’s not just me. My friends are educated, mature professionals, and yet they are still emotionally blackmailed into attending parties. Simply declining, politely, to host a party in my home seems to be an affront.

There it is, the crux of party-marketing: feelings. Should your emotions enter into your shopping experience? At these parties, I have experienced the feeling of largesse because I could help a friend who needed additional income. Have you ever felt a sense of belonging because you joined in the buying frenzy? Some find happiness in their shopping experiences. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if you are invited to a party, the invitation will come from a friend, a family member, or a co-worker. You will usually have some emotional tie to the hostess.

Interestingly, in all the parties that I have attended, the only one where a few men were present was Amway (even though several of the above-listed companies do sell men’s products). This leads me to surmise that, if network marketing is the future of sales — it is the future of sales for women, who respond more favorably to personalized, emotionalized selling. Fine, label me a sexist, but the statistics support my theory. According to Direct Sales Association, 87.9% of sellers are women. 32.8% of items sold are skin care care, jewelry and clothing/accessories. 25.6% of sales are in the area of home care products.

Are the parties fun? Sometimes, yes. Kelley, who used to sell Pampered Chef products, explained: “Our team worked hard to create parties that were entertaining and educational — we even called ourselves edutainers!”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

The latest pitch had a new twist: “Make up your Furlough Friday lost income!” I think it’s admirable if a person wants to earn extra income, as many of my friends have, by taking on another job. However, you should recognize the fact that you are not responsible for helping them earn their “dream house” or “a new car.” I have found myself empathizing with the hostess’ desire to home-school her children, or to help her kids with college. As a savvy Wise Bread reader, though, you should understand that the products you are purchasing at a home party may be available elsewhere for much less.

A tactic I do not care for is being invited to a party, only to find out it’s a sales pitch. If they are not straightforward about the purpose of the gathering, that doesn’t speak well for the product or the company. Why should I have to be tricked into buying something?

A bad experience, in response to one of my queries, came from Kathleen of Client Connections, who had this to say:

I’ve had both good and bad experiences with network marketing. Bad ones include: Being invited to a “business card exchange” that turned out to be a one-hour pitch for joining the MLM company, either as a customer or distributor, and being invited for “coffee and conversation” only to discover that was a euphemism for “listen to my pitch about my MLM.

Knowing all of this, what if you receive an invitation to a party? Go, if you want, but be ready. Here are my thoughts about surviving the sales “party” experience.

1. There is nothing wrong with saying, “No, thank you” or “I’ll have to think about it.”

2. Find out if the product is guaranteed. If you want your money back, how do you get it (i.e., will the presenter/hostess handle it, or do you have to call a national customer service hotline)?

3. Really consider whether or not the product is a good value. By “good value,” I mean, would you buy it if it wasn't being sold by your friend?

4. A pitch I’ve run across many times is: “If this party has receipts of $300 or more, your hostess will get this bonus gift.” This is a ploy for you to have sympathy for your hostess, who may be gazing longingly at that spa set.

5. Beware this statement: “If you spent another $xx, you can get free shipping." It's another ploy for you to spend just a little bit more. Try buddying up and sharing an order with someone else at the party.

6. Alcohol is frequently served and it does loosen your inhibitions. You could be in for a buyer’s remorse hangover so if you have a drink, be extra careful about spending.

As a veteran marketing party animal, my advice is that there is nothing inherently bad about buying products this way. Just be aware of the tactics that are designed to induce you to spend more. Keep your emotions in check, and think about whether you really need the product or can get it elsewhere, for less.

To find out more about network marketing, check out Nora's thorough explanation in Multi-Level Marekting: The Future or Folly?

For the marketing party veterans among you, if you have favorite products that are available only through network marketing companies, or are of superior quality through them, please share them with all of us in the comment section, and tell us why you like them!

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Andrea Karim's picture

I have never attended a marketing party, and I hope that I never will. The entire thing has the feel of a cult about it.

I totally understand the feeling of wanting to help a friend in need, and I often go out of my way to help friends that I know are struggling financially. But I draw the line at these types of events. I despise the feeling of having products pitched at me, especially in a setting where it is difficult to say "No, thanks, I don't want or need any of this."

Julie Rains's picture

Great topic and post on what can be a touchy issue for some; I like what Miss Manners has said about distinguishing between social and business invitations. So, if I get an invitation from a 'friend" who has never invited me to her house before, or accepted my invitation, or shown any sort of interest in getting to know me, then I consider the invite purely business and am unlikely to show up or respond.

On the other hand, if someone I know well is having a party, I am likely to go -- but that has happened just a couple of times in the past few years. Still, I have enjoyed attending because I typically learn a little bit about certain products -- the demo portion is usually what I like plus general socializing.

I haven't needed to buy this lately but have Tupperware around the house (great stuff and you can get replacement parts for free) as well as some Pampered Chef and a Southern Living cookbook.

Guest's picture
Beth

Great post! Any one noticed that these parties are more often than not targeted at women? There is definitely an emotional angle here -- guilt and impulse buying!

I've been to a few of these parties, and it is nice to meet some new people. However, I only go if there's something I need or want (for myself or for a gift). (I check out the company website before accepting the invite).

Guest's picture
Graig

I try to read as many articles on WiseBread as possible, I think the information is priceless. I think for once I can add something to the conversation though! I'm an MBA student and recently took a course in which we were required to read the book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion." In it, there's a list of the six "Weapons of Influence," one of which is "Liking." The author, Robert Cialdini, actually uses the example of Tupperware parties and their marketing ploys. It really is a great read, and goes a looooong way to giving you an insider's viewpoint of some of the oldest sales tricks in the book. I'm not one of those students that loves to read either, usually it's quite the chore, but once you start reading this book, you start identifying with all the tricks that have been pulled on you before. I suggest picking up a copy!

Guest's picture
GMG

Unless it's a product that I am really interest in, like Tupperware (it's still very good quality), I just say that I don't attend "those types" of parties. Yes, it may be a bit gruff, but I think it's pretty nervy to invite me to a "party" so that they can get free stuff. I'd rather just hand you $5 and save my self a boat load of overpriced clutter.

Guest's picture

I am very familiar with Pampered Chef. Mt daughter is a mid level distributor 8 to 10 years in the business. Networking is her only advertising. The business prospers because the products are excellent, they have lasting value!

John DeFlumeri Jr.

Guest's picture
Guest

Ones you didnt' list:

Tastefully Simple (their product IS the food)
Lia Sofia (jewelry - really pretty jewelry, but costume jewelry)

there's also a new thing out there called Houseparty.com. It's wonderful because they don't try to sell you anything. Most times, a party you attend, you're given free samples, items and coupons. No selling of the product.

I hosted a Houseparty.com party for a brand name of canned tomatoes. I made some food with the free cans I got, and everybody was given little gifts and coupons. Will this make them buy it over others? maybe / mabye not. If it were cheaper than the regular brand, probably.

Guest's picture
MDP

I don't have a ton of female friends, so I'm not bombarded with these. I usually go if invited by a genuine friend, since frequently the hostess is only throwing the party as a favor to the rep, but I never feel compelled to accept a casual invitation from an acquaintance. And I wouldn't feel compelled to go if the product were something I had no interest in buying (scrapbooking supplies, "adult" items).

When I go, I almost always do buy something small, usually something I'd been wanting or meaning to buy anyway - with products like Tupperware or Pampered Chef, there's usually something for sale that fits that description, and at least they're decent items. I do realize that I could often find something similar for less elsewhere, but I guess I chalk it up to the cost of the evening's entertainment - not an absolute obligation, but part of the social contract.

But I'm pretty sure I'd never host one of my own, no matter who was asking, because I wouldn't want to put my friends in the position of feeling obligated by the invitation, and many would.

Guest's picture

"Network Marketing Parties: Opportunity or Emotional Blackmail? "

I don't think that it is an Either Or question. A network marketing party CAN be (and in most cases from my experience IS) emotional blackmail, but I have been to a party where I wasn't really "Pitched" by anyone to buy anything but there were displays and things that may have persuaded people who were REALLY looking for something new.

But then I'm not sure doing it that way is really effective. If the purpose is really to RECRUIT, then the emotional blackmail is one of the many tactics that can be used to do so.

Guest's picture
Jim

I've never been to one of these. I don't like the idea of this kind of marketing but I don't think they're all bad. I think it depends on the quality of the product. If I were interested in buying something and someone had this kind of party then I might go. I don't know I would feel pressure to buy from a friend or not.

One very bad example of this kind of thing is attaching such a marketing party to an event people are expected to go to. My wife was invited to a bridal shower which had such a party as part of it. She was basically obligated to go to the bridal party and then pressured to go to the sales party in addition. She opted out of the sales party but felt a bit conflicted about doing so.

Guest's picture
DeeAnn

I sold Avon one time. I was a young poor college student. I was terrible at it. I still buy Avon occasionally.

I have never attended a StampinUp party. Upline, Downline, $150 and you can get a hostess gift. All these terms make my head spin.

I do love a lot of Stampin Up products such as their markers, of course stamps, and ink. Some of their products are made by other companies such as Lyra, EK Success & Tombow. You can get them much cheaper at your craft store or other online vendors.

I recently made a large order online with SU. I have a sweet demo online who I order from. I was happy with my purchases.

I did some really hard research before I invested that kind of money. I am happy with my purchases that will last a long time and be more frugal for me in the long run.

Yes, these home marketing companies have some great products but research is the key and learning to be a good, informed, frugal shopper when attending the parties.

Guest's picture
Bellen

Back in the 70's these home parties were all the rage. I attended a few given by friends - Avon, something for babies and a lingerie party. I bought Skin So Soft from Avon for insect repellent, nothing from the baby or lingerie parties. I was quickly dropped from the invite list AND from some other social events like coffees and even playdates. I wasn't the 'friend' these people wanted.

Have not been to one in 30 years, would not go to another and would never think to host one. BTW, I never found the products to exceed what I could buy in a store in price or quality.

Financial Samurai's picture

I'm never one to deny some shrimp cocktail and a chance to meet folks who share similar passions and desires.

It's easy to say "no", just say "sorry, I gotta go get some more of the yummy shrimp" and walk away!

The point is that it's all a NUMBERS GAME. The more people you meet, the higher your chance someone is going to think you're quality material.

Fight on!

Keigu,

Financial Samurai
"Slicing Through Money's Mysteries"

Guest's picture

I admit it - I despise home parties...I dread being invited to them, jewelry, pampered chef, etc...
BUT - Not ALL home parties are bad...I am a consultant for Tastefully Simple - Easy to prepare food for anyone! Our items are $10 or less!
While I don't do very many home parties (or care to) I do love to do online catalog shows - it's the best of both worlds - people hosting a party earn free products but don't have to invite people over or listen to sales pitches.
I am a consultant because I love their products and appreciate the discount...
Tastefully Simple offers easy to prepare foods from bread to soup to dips, spices to jazz up what you are already cooking, etc etc.
I pride myself on my NO PRESSURE - non-direct way of doing parties - no asking people to buy just one more thing, no trying to get people to book parties, etc my only sales pitch I use - 'everyone eats' - This stuff makes a great gift for anyone! No more trying to figure out what to do with 'just one more candle' or 'one more piece of overpriced tupperware'
Just as with anything - you just have to be mindful of if you need it!

Guest's picture
Sam

Watkins and the "adult" ones need to be added to the list too :-)

I hate the adult ones & what I can't stand is that they take my not wanting to go as not being comfortable with such things... when it is actually I can't stand the imaturity displayed a & being single the type of pitches geared towards me.

Trying to be discreet - can you tell?
I found out last night the party my son's best friend's Mom invited me to this weekend is such a party & I accepted the invite weeks ago not knowing it was such a party. I have no desire to buy that stuff but don't know how ot gracefully decline. Her hubby is taking the boys out during the party so I can use childcare as my out.

I agree not all are bad - tends to depend on the rep & how much tact they have. Tastefully Simple I enjoy but I cook from scratch so I don't need pre-mixed stuff.
I got turned off of pampered chef when a rep told me how I needed to buy more because she was using her profit to buy her Dad a house. I know that entire company isn't like that, it just turned me off even though I find some of their little gadgets indispensable.

Guest's picture
Olivia

I was given Tupperware at my Tupperware wedding shower. The "hostess" (a friend) gave me the products she would have gotten and a couple of other friends pitched in. I still use them 25 years later. I've added to my collection from our local thrift store and yard sales. They are pricey at retail. The other parties I've been to or declined going to carry products that don't seem to be worth it.

Guest's picture
Susan

As a Pampered Chef consultant, I am very PROUD of my company. Do you know Warren Buffet is the current owner of this "multi-level marketing" business? I pride myself in holding cooking classes - I teach people how to save money by cooking at home. You can use my tools or you can use yours - it's all about sharing information.

During my cooking class, I let people know if they are attending only as a favor to the hostess, we have a $1 cookbook they can buy if they feel they MUST buy something.

The products ARE more expensive than what you can buy at Wal-Mart or Target - I don't ever argue that. I HAVE products from those places too! Pampered Chef sells high-quality cooking tools, some with 2+ years full product replacement warranty.
Learn how to use those tools from a cooking show and save money.

I still go to Tupperware parties, Tastefully Simple parties and all the rest - If if I find something of good value and quality, I buy. If not, I have left without ordering and don't ever feel guilty - it's just not for me. I keep the consultant information and pass it on if anyone ever asks me.

Just my two cents worth... thanks for all the comments, I really enjoy reading this blog.

Guest's picture
Charles

Tupperware seems to last and does a very good job.. I have tried spending less but have been not thrilled with the quality. And like an earlier post, the stuff seems to never die.. so I am good with the expense for quality roi.. thank you.
Charles

Guest's picture
Jim

Sam is right about the 'adult' themed products. That kind of product adds the extra layer of people considering you 'prude' if you don't want to go. Those parties may be the most obnoxious imposition on your friends and family.

Guest's picture
Guest

Emotional blackmail. I like many of Pampered Chef's products, which have lasted many years in my household. I just don't like feeling obligated to buy someone's stuff just because I know them.

Guest's picture
Kathleen

One comment that deserves to be added: Network marketing is like any other profession. Some independent distributors/consultants are delightful, ethical, fun loving, and service oriented. Others are desperate, cagy, grasping, and sly.

If you're lucky enough to have interacted with one of the former, you know that an MLM home presentation can be a wonderful way to spend some time and, yes, maybe some money. If you've run into the latter, you have my sympathy.

But, please, let's not tar everyone in the profession with the same "these are emotional blackmailers" brush!

Guest's picture
Josh

Anybody who is involved in MLM... is anyone net profitable? My understanding is that the vast vast majority of distributors lose money (assuming the intent is to sell the items).

Any truth to that?

Guest's picture
Nicole

I love Ardyss International products. They have excellent, high-quality reshaping, all-natural nutritional, and skin care lines. It is a rapidly growing MLM company with awesome products. I originally joined only to get the discounted products because they blew my mind ie. Bodyshaper that instantly made me 3 sizes smaller! The all-natural products sold me as well because I was always big on nutrition. Then I realized after months of inquiries of what I was doing to look so good, that I was sitting on a goldmine company and the rest is history.