We’ve all heard of Amway and the cult following it appears to enjoy. They have a very, very effective marketing strategy that has influenced a fair percentage of the western world’s population to join and ensnare their friends and family.
Twenty years ago I briefly fell into Amway’s tricky clutches. A friend I hadn’t seen since leaving school the year before suddenly appeared out of the blue and convinced me he was about to become a millionaire.
I liked the guy and I listened to him describe a way to make shit-loads of money without doing a lot for it. I’m all for easy money. There was no mention of Amway. He called it ‘Network Marketing’ and explained its methodology well enough for me to believe we could both be millionaires.
He offered to take me to see ‘the plan’ at a big meeting. I later found out this practice is recommended to ensure new recruits got to the meeting and that they had to stay until the end. The ‘up-line’ leaders were on hand the give the hard sell at that time.
We got to the meeting and I’m impressed by all the people in suits and ties and evening dresses. I felt a bit under-dressed in shorts, shirt and sneakers. A large screen fronts about a hundred and fifty chairs, most of them filling up fast. I had no idea what this is all about. We took a seat and the doors closed. The projector started up. Huge pictures of cars, boats and holiday destinations flashed across the screen. People around me jump out of their chairs and cheer. I didn’t get it. Was this some sort of religious ceremony? Had they won something? Should I jump up and yell too?
I actually felt slightly afraid. Being a virgin and locked in an enclosed space with some mighty strange people who might just participate in human sacrifice will do that. (I’m told I have an over-active imagination.) Carefully I check out a path to the exit, a bunch of suits standing around the doors blocked them. They were jumping up and down and cheering too. I was trapped.
The fear was real but the utter strangeness of the whole experience was exhilarating. At first I didn’t get it, but after some research I realised the effectiveness of deliberately provoking people to behave like this. It's a controlling method used to make individuals feel that they belong to a group.
Being surrounded by unnaturally happy zealots, worshipping everyday objects, had a negative effect on me. I’d read about this sort of thing and could distance myself enough that the psychology they use didn't work as well as it might. I'm not saying I had a higher intelligence, it's just that they approached me the wrong way.
I need pampering and a slow, steady build up from someone to properly take advantage of me.
They were a bit heavy handed from the start. They fed off each other’s outlandish behaviour until they’d whipped up a common state of euphoria. I’d heard of brainwashing, group hypnosis, mental manipulation, disassociation and affiliation and now I was seeing and hearing it for real. This stuff was gold to my writers mind.
So they wouldn’t pick me out as a non-believer I offered up a few ‘Hoorays’ hoping that would be the extent of their expectations. If they’d shown pictures of V8 Torana’s I’d be able to express myself more convincingly.
The funniest thing happened at the overbearing meet and greet afterward. My good friend diverted me from a sprint to the door, so I had to meet his ‘up-line’ mentor. Supposedly I’d be his underling when I signed up. He was friendly and attentive to everything I said. Like any good used-car salesman, he knew how to listen. An important skill for manipulating people.
I saw some Amway pamphlets lying around and said “Oh, you’re selling Amway?” The Triple-Plated Platinum leader, or whatever title he’d been awarded with, was shocked. “No, absolutely not. Amway is just a vehicle, what we’re doing is Network Marketing, nothing to do with Amway. When you get your friends to come to the next meeting don't mention Amway. It’s Network Marketing” (Read, Pyramid Selling).
I thought long and hard about the highly optimistic projections of what I’d be earning. I asked him, “If I have to convince 10 people to be under me and they convince 10 people and so on you’re going to run out of people pretty quick, aren’t you?” Even a 17 year old can see market saturation comes about fairly quickly at this rate. He didn’t like my questions and fobbed me off.
I accepted what they were saying so I could go home with my free literature and starter pack. (That ‘free’ pack would be recovered from your earnings without your knowledge later.)
Dubious, if somewhat intrigued, I went to several more less formal meetings. I wanted to ensure my cynicism wasn't screwing up a sure-fire way to make money. They must have gotten to me a little bit.
Unfortunately for my up-line, each meeting convinced me less and less that the concept could work. A large percentage of the town's population had already been approached and either wanted nothing to do with it or had joined and dropped out when they’d failed to make any money. It became obvious the people at the bottom of the pyramid turned over at a massive rate to keep the people at the top fed. Achieving enough points to make even a minimum wage was restricted to those already high up the pyramid.
After several more meetings I’d had enough. High pressure sales and brainwashing meetings couldn't compete with a youthful desire to go out and drink piss with my mates.
I told my up-line I wanted to quit. That’s when they really started on me. For several hours they forced motivational tapes on me. I said I couldn't afford it so they drew up a budget for me. They concluded I was bankrupt and only by listening to their tapes and attending meeting could I dig myself out of debt. (I spent what I earned, so what? Their answer to my bankruptcy made no sense either. How can I afford to buy their tapes if I have no money?) One bloke even told me he'd ring me up in the near future when he was rich to tell me how much of a loser I was for dropping out. Why? If you’re rich, surely you’d have better things to do than ringing people who failed to make it.
That ‘intervention’ was the last straw. I broke free of these scam artists and made it my calling for a while to badmouth Amway. I'd explain exactly how the scheme works and warn people off.
I’m glad dropped out. I was pressured to shun my friends and family and to only concentrate on showing ‘the plan’, watching other people showing ‘the plan’ and buying motivational tapes.
As good as Amway products are, their marketing is immoral. I'd never buy that brand on that principle.