What’s Wrong With MLM (According to John Oliver)

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I’m not a big fan of the MLM business model.

Multi-level marketing, network marketing and direct selling are all names for this business model where you sell a product while recruiting a team to the same thing you’re doing. A compensation plan encourages earning through recruitment.

John Oliver, who’s talk show Last Week Tonight runs on HBO, dedicated an episode to pointing out everything wrong with MLM particularly focusing on one of the most popular companies, Herbalife.

Herbalife has been plagued with investigations and lawsuits many claiming that they’re running an illegal pyramid scheme. But they’re still going.

Watch John Oliver hilariously tell you about what’s wrong with multi-level marketing in the video above which contains the entire episode.

Highlights from The Multi-Level Marketing Episode

Here are some of the best highlights to look for when you’re watching the episode.

  • A Vemma distributor tells a reporter that his MLM isn’t an illegal pyramid scheme (yet it’s shaped like a pyramid). Vemma was later shut down in 2015 by the FTC for being an illegal pyramid scheme.
  • Celebrities like Chuck Norris and Jenny McCarthy who endorse these MLMs. Fun fact: Even the current US President, Donald Trump once endorsed an MLM called ACN.
  • JR Ridinger, CEO of Market America and his over the top performances at conferences.
  • The Youngevity claims by company ambassador is deemed unauthorized by the company. I believe they just felt embarrassed because they were asked about it.
  • The dream that many MLM companies sell and how they sell them can sometimes be enticing
  • Facts about Herbalife and their spotty history with their bogus product claims, some of which continue to this day.
  • The confusing compensation plans people just don’t have time to understand.
  • Around the 14:30 mark, the official definition of an illegal pyramid scheme is explained. This is something that many people don’t get and you’ll get varying definitions depending on who you ask.
  • The shocking truth about how much distributors of some MLMs really earn.
  • There are some clips from Betting on Zero, a documentary film about Herbalife I had watched a while back on Netflix.
  • What would Ghandi do?

If you’re really interested in getting to know what MLMs are really about and the general perception of this business model then this is an entertaining watch that is better than reading boring articles about the topic from news websites. Watching all the way through is highly recommended.

MLM Companies Mentioned on the Show

Recently, I wrote a couple of articles about an MLM company called Total Life Changes. Although this company was not mentioned in the show, it is similar to some of the ones that were.

Here is a run down of some of the companies mentioned by John Oliver in his MLM episode.

  • Mary Kay – sells cosmetics and skin care.
  • Rodan + Fields – sells cosmetics and skin care.
  • NuSkin – sells skin care products
  • Amway – sells health, beauty and home-care products.
  • Market America – sells in a broad range of categories
  • Vemma – shut down by the FTC in 2015 as an illegal pyramid scheme
  • Advocare – sells health and weight management
  • Max International – sells beauty, nutrition supplements and weight management
  • Jeunesse – sells beauty and wellness products
  • Youngevity – sells health and essential oils
  • Kyäni – sells health and nutrition
  • Le-vel – sells health and wellness
  • Jusuru – acquired by Modere in 2017 who now sells their Liquid BioCell product
  • Herbalife – sells nutrition and weight management products. This company receives extensive coverage throughout the episode.

I’ve been a member of Amway in the past so I’ve experienced what it is like to be a part of MLM business firsthand. This was back in 2004.

Right now, I’m currently doing affiliate marketing and have been doing that full time for more than 10 years. It’s a much better business model with less drama involved and lots of nice benefits and perks.

  • You can do it from anywhere in the world, even while traveling.
  • Just need an internet connection and a computer.
  • Choose to promote any product you want from thousands of available vendors
  • High income potential. Not typical but some affiliates make hundreds of thousands per month.
  • Cost to get started is minimal and you can even get started for free. A hobo can do affiliate marketing from the public library.
  • You don’t need to own your product or deal with customers
  • No recruiting. You income doesn’t depend on building a team.

If you’re interested in getting started with affiliate marketing, there are lots of training available online. I however would recommend the same website that I use for training. I’m still a member because they give you the tools (such as website hosting) to run your online business and they also have a highly active community of affiliates you can learn and get support from. They will help you build your business.

You can sign up for free to get started with the training and with the free website you get, you can start building your business.

Check out my full review and sign up to get started.

Finished watching the video? I welcome any discussion you may have on the topic. Hit the comment section below and tell me what you’re thinking.



  1. Hey Jay, that is a really interesting post. I was in 2 MLMs in the past 10 years and enjoyed it in many ways.

    The thing to remember is that everyone in an MLM business has the same opportunity so there is no question (with legit MLMs) of it being a pyramid. My upline used to say that the person who would make the most money in the business hadn’t joined yet and I’m sure he was right. Someone downline from me could build a much bigger organisation than mine. I saw a new girl start and leave her job in 3 months having been stacking shelves in Tescos supermarket before.

    The challenge is, to make the sort of money where you can leave your job (I never did), you need to be sponsoring and training non-stop as 97% don’t stay very long. I have moved to Affiliate Marketing which I have to say I much prefer as I am not depending on anyone else for my success – it’s 100% down to me.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts.



    • Jean, I agree with everything that you’ve said here especially with the sponsoring and training part involved with being in an MLM. I also prefer affiliate marketing for the same reason.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your opinion.

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