September 17, 2010

Amway For The 2010's

The other day I was escorting a prospect through the firm's lobby. There were several people there, including another attorney who was talking with an attractive woman in her forties, and this attorney said, "You might want to talk to TL here about that, it seems like the sort of thing he might be interested in," and practically shot out the front door. So I was left talking with this woman who first established that we had some common social acquaintances, and then proceeded to pitch me on MonaVie.

A quick glance at the glossy 8 by 14 sheet of written material revealed to me that 1) it was badly out of date in that it indicated that "very few baby boomers are now in their 40's,"* 2) the product in question was fruit juice, and 3) this was a multi-level marketing scheme. Is MonaVie a scam? If you ask me, anything sold through a multi-level marketing mechanism becomes a scam sooner or later. There are certainly appreciable numbers of people who have stuck their necks out to explain why they think it is a scam.

Now, it's not hard to see how when you sell fruit juice for forty dollars a quart you can get to a fairly high amount of revenue in the first place or how there would be considerable profit left over for the various tiers in your marketing pyramid. As a business model, I approve of huge profit, all other things being equal. But I have real doubts that this is a particularly ripe business opportunity.  The real flaw I see here is that competing products are readily and cheaply available. Who the hell is going to pay forty dollars for 750 ml of something they can get in a 2 liter bottle for about a tenth of the price at their supermarket, bearing a label that reads "Ocean Spray" instead of "MonaVie"? Suckers, that's who. So how are you going to sucker them?

By touting your product as possessing magical qualities, that's how. The marketing material dwells on the pseudoscience of antioxidants as an anti-aging measure. Drink MonaVie and you'll never get old! Well, sorry, but you will. Fruit juice may contain a large concentration of helpful nutrients and essential vitamins, but super fruit juices sold on the strength of their antioxidant content are the modern version of snake oil and there are potential harms -- there are hints that certain kinds of antioxidants in large enough doses can actually suppress your body's immunodefense system; the most commonly-touted antioxident, resveratrol, may actually increase the risk of the very harms it is deployed to mitigate or prevent when not used appropriately. A morning of looking around the science available on the internet tells me that there is no substantial scientific consensus on any of the purported health benefits of any particular antioxidant, much less that of an antioxidant cocktail like MonaVie. There may be some health benefits, and there are some hints of real promise and progress to be made. But "science" doesn't know for sure that any of the four varieties of antioxidants (ascorbic acid or "vitamin C"; tocopherols or "vitamin E"; polyphenols like resveratrol; or carotenoids like lycopene from tomatoes) does anything even resembling the claims made in fundamentally dishonest marketing materials associated with products.

My conclusion after a very brief survey of scientific literature is that MonaVie sells sweet, purply woo at forty dollars a bottle. Your mileage may vary, but no sane consumer of even average intelligence would buy the stuff without having first had their critical thinking skills suspended through the use of dishonest claims (largely based on testimonials rather than cited scientific reports in peer-reviewed journals) about its purported health benefits.

The real proof, though, is that most any MonaVie representative you come across has a day job. The woman I spoke to was employed as a mortgage broker. If she was really making such good money selling a healthful product that actually excited her and gave her joy, why would she keep her day job? No, at best this is a sideline and most likely she got suckered in by a sales pitch from her upline in the MLM pyramid and bought hundreds of dollars worth of this fruit juice, realized that she can't sell the product and that the only way to do anything worthwhile is to sell "the system" instead, and therefore is now looking to unload these bottles of grossly overpriced blueberry smoothies on the next, greater fool.

Who isn't going to be me.

* Really? Very few boomers left in their 40's?  What is this, the Clinton Administration? A baby boomer is someone who was born in the several years after World War II ended, from around 1945 to some indeterminate, arbitrary date in the early 1950's. As I can personally attest, the children of baby boomers are now entering their 40's. Boomers are entering retirement age although thanks to the financial crash of 2008, many are postponing retirement for a few years so as to recover their assets before ceasing work, and who could blame them?

According to the corporate website, the ingredients are a proprietary blend of: "Açai, white grape, apple, acerola, aronia, purple grape, cranberry, passion fruit, prune, kiwi, blueberry, wolfberry, camu camu, pomegranate, lychee fruit, pear, banana, cupuaçu, and bilberry." Cupuaçu is probably the trendiest ingredient in that list; açai used to be almost totally unknown ten years ago but now you can get açai juice fairly cheaply and without much difficulty at grocery stores all over California. Not that MonaVie cares about that, particularly.

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