Beware of the Snake Oil Salesman
Having a chronic health condition can be challenging in and of itself. Eczema is not often “invisible.” Others can readily identify it on my body. Unfortunately, living with such a visible diagnosis also leaves us vulnerable to exposure that can bring even more unwanted challenges. Our atopic dermatitis often makes us a target, exposing us to predatory companies, dangerous products, and inaccurate information.
Today I am going to share with you a cautionary tale of my own with becoming a sales target by agents of unethical companies.
How did my experience with marketing start?
My experience with multi level marketing began when I was a child. My single parent was always involved with one or another of these types of companies, and I, of course, was always along for the ride. It was during my first visible flare-up as an adult when I went to the last of these parties. This one was for essential oils.
The “educator,” presented all sorts of recommendations that I felt interested in and excited about. I watched her ingest essential oils and apply them directly to her skin, all the while explaining what benefits were happening.
When did the sales pitch start?
All I wanted was some relief from the discomfort and for people to stop asking questions about my skin. I was desperate for relief but had a considerably low income at that time. At the end of the presentation, the sales pitch started. I knew I couldn’t afford to become a salesperson for the product, nor did I have any desire to be one. However, this woman was not going to simply be happy with my buying just one of the most inexpensive items and calling it a day. She was persistent.
I heard many regurgitated versions of the same message:
- “I should host a party! If you do, you’ll get a discount!”
- "Just think of all the health benefits you will get if you can access all of the oils in the beginner kit as a distributor!”
How did I feel about it?
Luckily for this lady, my parent was sold. I, however, left the event feeling quite strange and uncomfortable about the whole thing. This feeling grew when I received my first essential oil burn by following the skincare advice given by the presenter. Unfortunately, the essential oils were only the tip of the iceberg in being the target of uncomfortable and unreliable product marketing.
How many people push products for my eczema?
I found myself often targeted by “friends” trying to promote a product by bringing up my skin, my postpartum body, or by dangling promises of wealth and success to try and lure me to sign into their “downline.” As I began to research more into the various multilevel marketing (or direct sales) companies I was most often being targeted by, some ugly truths became apparent. I saw an emerging pattern of behavior in these companies that horrified me: Exaggerated and unsubstantiated product claims, exaggerated and misleading information around income earning and blatant promotion of abusive and deceptive recruitment and sales strategies.
Can the risk of manipulation be reduced?
Fortunately, the United States - where most of these companies operate - has a very robust and aggressive Federal Trade Commission that routinely holds these companies, their product claims and their business practices accountable. However, this accountability is purely at a corporate level. There are still many people at risk of being manipulated and harmed by these companies, especially those who are low-income, isolated, or living with chronic and/or visible illnesses.
How can you protect yourself?
So how can you protect yourself from these kinds of businesses? Using critical thought when you are dealing with these companies is the only means of protection anyone has.
Here are a few good questions you can ask or research that will help you determine the safety and validity of a company and their product.
- Do the claims of the company for their product hold up to current science? If they have expert-approved products, what are the credentials of the experts?
- Does this company have any past or outstanding actions against them by the Federal Trade Commission?
- Does the company's income-earning ability claims hold against their company income disclosure statement? (You can find this by Googling “[company name] income disclosure statement.” If they operate in America they will have one.)
As people with atopic dermatitis, we will always be at risk of these interactions, especially if our condition is visible. Luckily, by asking yourself those questions when dealing with these companies you can make an informed decision on whether their products will be safe and worthwhile to you and your family.
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