Pyramid Schemes Aren’t Sexy – The Guilt Driven Psychology Behind Pure Romance

Author’s note: to fully represent all of the malicious inner workings of these shopping-oriented house parties, I interviewed several women who’ve attended them as guests. Their anonymous testimonials are referenced throughout this article.

Connie breathes down your neck as you scan the pages of her kid’s holiday gift catalog. In your periphery, two other coworkers scurry off to eat lunch in their cars. A cold sweat envelops you now as you wonder… have popcorn tins always been this expensive? Even the tea light candle thing is like fifteen bucks—damn!

We’ve all been in this situation in one way or another. You’re either the one being detained in the break room, forced to buy gross toffy or you’re one of the Connies of the world, enslaved by an overwhelming pressure to out-parent everyone else in the booster club. Both people in this situation are dealing with impossible, irreconcilable guilt:

Connie could not take the catalog to work, leaving it up to callous chance (and her neighborhood’s generosity) as to whether or not her kids can raise enough money for band camp.

You could not buy the working class mother of four’s $20 friendship bracelet assortment and just keep on being a douchebag your whole life.

One thing though is clear — someone is exiting this transaction as the sucker. What a shitty, exploitative business model, right? What other shopping experience has so many interwoven expectations and potentially hurt feelings?

What if I told you there is an even more insidious sales tactic that makes school fundraisers seem as innocent as a lemonade stand?

Resurrecting the Tupperware Parties of yesteryear, Pure Romance is marketed as a sexy way for stay-at-home moms (you know, the only mothers who actually love their family) to supplement household income. Its message is one of empowerment—everything, down to the tastefully flirty aesthetic, is designed to evoke a sense of confidence—which makes the company’s predatory nature all the more shameful.

Just a side note before we get going deeper: in a world full of Cutco knives, Kirby vacuums, and fake Nigerian princes, Pure Romance is not the first, the last, or even the worst scam out there. But it is a corporation that’s trying to sell its targets on false ideas of sisterhood and an emotional support system. Remember, no matter how heroic a corporation paints themselves, they are still a business.

I would say 50% of my Facebook feed are these “parties”. It’s annoying. These business models are so guilt driven. It’s infuriating. And bullshit. And nothing I’ll ever actually say on Facebook because I would offend like all of my friends and it’s very important to me that people like me. – Anonymous, age 31

A Pure Romance consultant’s job is to host house parties and educate guests on the applications for relationship-enhancing products (read: dildos), with the intention to sell them to those in attendance. All of the guests at these “parties” are almost universally the hostess’ own friends; people who presumably wish to maintain a a healthy relationship with the person hosting.

It’s a business pitch not even the greasiest used car salesman could cook up. Imagine if every time you wanted to buy anything—a TV, animal crackers, a pair of pants—you had to do so through a close, personal friend. Furthermore, not buying your items from them means that you would essentially be threatening their livelihood. Of course this is hyperbole, but only kind of. After all, what sort of a heartless monster would leave one of these sex toy parties (that their friend put so much effort into) empty-handed?

It’s Late Stage Capitalism at its most exploitative. Pure Romance likes to boast that its consultants make their own schedules. Really though, they’ve just created a nightmarish new way to seamlessly blend work into leisure.

ol-gil

The catalogue gets passed around and your friends stare at you and say “no pressure, and help yourself to the refreshments I bought for this party, did I mention that I get 15% of the profits as a host, and we both get a free puppy if you offer to host a party as well!” – Anonymous, age 26

So we’ve established that Pure Romance plays on our tribal fears of being excluded from the pack, but what makes it a pyramid scheme? It all comes down to its sales platform: Multi-Level Marketing. MLM is a business construct that divides sales representatives into tiers. The baseline, entry consultants make the standard commission on each sale, and are encouraged to recruit a team of their own. For every new subordinate a recruiter brings on, that recruiter gets to permanently siphon off a portion of the newbie’s commission. To offset this, that new recruit is encouraged to find some more suckers to work under them. This chain of profit all inevitably works its way up to Pure Romance’s CEO, some dude.

Pictured: some dude
Pictured: some dude

Not only do MLMs thrust friendships into some questionable territory, they are also a dangerous gamble financially. As Jezebel pointed out in this article, 99% of MLM distributors lose money. Whether it’s makeup, jewelry, or whatever the fuck Thirty-One is shuffling out of their warehouses, in order to even begin selling any of it, these organizations require a hefty upfront investment from their potential sellers. Standard “Kits” are in the $200 price range and—if you haven’t guessed by now then you haven’t been paying attention—Premium Kits are on the wrong side of one grand!

The cynical response would be to label this as another corporate machination, to separate the gullible from their hard earned cash, but that is painting in broad strokes—ignorantly overlooking the twisted psychology at play.

Take a look at this quote, but replace the words “Pure Romance” with “Ritualistic Space Cannibal”

“As part of her Pure Romance Ritualistic Space Cannibal journey, every Consultant receives continual training and support from the company, as well as from her fellow Consultants at every step of the way. She thus becomes an integral part of an extraordinarily nurturing and encouraging network of Pure Romance Ritualistic Space Cannibal friends and family.” – Michelle Graybill, Advanced Consultant 2nd Lieutenant, Order of the Xephilim

What people don’t quite understand about cult mentality is that the most susceptible people are the conventionally intelligent. Generally, the women who fall for these traps are of above average intelligence as well. However, using key phrases that target the anxieties of working class women, MLM mission statements are bloated with cult-like language, wish fulfillment fantasies, and messages of inclusion. All one has to do is immerse themselves long enough in all these faux-affirming messages and before you know it, their closets are full of handbags, lube, and a bunch of sexy lingerie that are nigh impossible to turn into even a meager profit.

ripoff

These businesses seem to really prey on a woman’s desire to make money while still being able to fully be there for her family. At my age, it very much targets that aspect of life. The pitch is always that you can make money while being there for your kids, as if going to work in an actual building and abandoning your kids at the age they need you the most and not selling overpriced jewelry or fancy skin care or purses monogrammed for Jesus means you aren’t being a good enough mom. It sucks. – Anonymous, age 33

What’s worse, is that the marketing is so effective that once a person buys into the concept, any attempts to dissuade them will usually be met with a hostile reaction. Show concern for a friend who’s getting roped into one of these pyramid schemes and chances are you will be considered unsupportive. A hater, negative baggage weighing them down, a remnant of their old life; before wistful slogans showed them a better way.

Although it is a small comfort for those who have already lost money (or worse, friends) to these various MLM schemes, there is a support group. Pink Truth is a website devoted to combating the harmful rhetoric companies like Mary Kay, Pure Romance, Rodan & Fields, and far too many others use to saddle enterprising women with false hope and credit card debt.

More often than not though, these scams spread like wildfire within a social circle. If Mary is hosting a Pure Romance party this weekend, the next weekend it’s a party for Stella’s jewelry or Sophia’s oil burners or whatever corny-ass Cracker Barrel shit Martha is selling through Thirty-One. Eventually it just becomes a scheduled rotation of buying each other’s garbage every weekend of their lives, through an endless cycle of weaponized guilt.

pink-pyramid-selling-scam-300x300
Image courtesy of Pink Truth

Author: Brian Fox

Brian is the creator of Vegan Dogfood. He founded this site out of contempt for excessive consumerism as well as a futile effort to reclaim culture from the 1990's blood-soaked talons. Brian is too cool for Facebook but too ugly for Instagram, so follow him on Twitter @Brjyan

6 thoughts on “Pyramid Schemes Aren’t Sexy – The Guilt Driven Psychology Behind Pure Romance”

  1. I’m going to preface this with a disclaimer. I realize your good intentions here. You seem to be trying to establish your own ethics on what are acceptable ways of making a living, or doing fundraisers. I’m just not sure you’ve thought through all the permutations of these situations.

    As to kids doing fundraisers for school trips or the community organization of their choice, I would suggest not demonizing them. By the very nature of selling an expensive candy bar or flower arrangement, it is understood that some of the money is for the fundraising. These are voluntary transactions, despite your hyperbolic explanation of emotional victimhood. I’ve said no thanks in many of these situations, and to my surprise, I have developed excellent friendships with them.

    As to the MLM business model, as you describe them. It might behoove you to re-examine your own employment situation. As for most of us, we work for a company or for ourselves. We probably have a supervisor who gets a percentage of our product or service sales. That supervisor probably has a general manager who gets a percentage of our sales, our supervisor’s sales, and all other employees’ sales. That general manager probably has a district manager who gets a percentage and bonuses for all our sales. And on and on until a CEO is getting gobs of money. By this time, I hope you see my point. We are all in MLM to some degree or another. In fact, it would be nice to have friends and family getting a percentage of my purchases, and providing financial support to them rather than people I don’t know. And again, these are voluntary transactions. If you have a better system that retains the voluntary transactions, many people would be interested.

    I get that you resent the “late stage capitalism”, but this shame game just causes divisiveness. See people are always looking to make things better. Maybe employee owned businesses or co-ops? Maybe something similar to these MLM’s where the single momtrepreneurs you are shaming, get a more stable business structure. Create solutions, and you change the world. People will flock to your business structure to provide a sustainable living for their family.

    Keep writing! You have a gift.

  2. From the point of view of a consultant, you are grossly misinformed on several points.

    My demo kit was a very reasonably priced business start-up investment. I didn’t have to go to the bank to get a loan.. my website was provided for me free of charge. And someone far more capable than I does all the marketing, purchasing, and advertising and then provides me with amazing technology and training.. the great majority of which is completely free of charge. A Pyramid scheme would imply that I paid something to the person above me and got nothing in return. But I received product that I can sell at a tidy profit and free marketing materials. With ZERO requirements to fulfill if I don’t want to continue my small business.
    I am NOT a stay at home Mom. I work full-time. I started this business as a hobby, a tax break, and a surprisingly effective method of getting my introverted and socially phobic-self out and meeting people. It’s also my retirement plan but for now it’s providing me with enough extra cash to take vacations and treat myself to luxury items I could not afford before.

    I purchase quality items at a 45% discount and sell them at competitively priced retail (that’s right, it’s not actually cheaper at the sex store down the road) to women who prefer to shop for intimate products (dildos are only a small percentage of what we offer-but it does make for scandalous blogging) in a safe and private environment. My clients trust me, I educate them about their bodies and offer advice. They can contact me at any time with product or relationship concerns and feel confident that I will be helpful and professional. Many of them stay connected with me long after the party is over. I’m sorry the subject of your testimonials had such a negative experience.
    I get paid immediately for these sales. I don’t have to wait for a cheque. I don’t have to share my profits with anyone. If I was an employee of the sex store down the road and made only minimum wage, you wouldn’t even question the unfairness of the owner making all the profit off the backs of his/her employees because the owner is assuming all the risk and overhead. But direct sales companies SHARE their profits with independent consultants who present them to buyers at home parties and that makes them evil?
    I share the business opportunity with women who want to do the same. I do not coerce anyone. The company does give me commissions based on my team’s sales, but this commission DOES NOT come out of my team mate’s profits. It comes directly from Corporate and cuts in to their bottom line. We are not obligated to build a team at all but encouraged to do so for our own growth. We also receive other financial rewards for being good leaders or reaching certain personal levels. This is motivation to build a team and achieve my personal business goals but I don’t get to sit on my laurels while they work.. I have to sell too 😉

    Our teams support each other in various ways, we create lasting friendships and motivate each other. Our company, our CEO (Chris Chichinelli) and the founder of Pure Romance (his MOM, Patti Brisbane) are tireless in their efforts to support their consultants and recognize their accomplishments with contests, trips and financial rewards. They travel all over the US, Canada and Australia year round to meet us, and teach us! We also teach each other in multiple online FB groups and in person at training seminars. We hold each other accountable, recognize hard work, provide advice and pride ourselves on being positive and professional. I have more friends than I can count in this business and I am HAPPY to support other women who are also direct sellers, just as I am happy to support local business instead of shopping at huge corporations that treat their employees poorly…like Walmart.

    I have never given a second thought to people who didn’t/couldn’t place an order with me. Everyone’s situation is different. There is no need for guilt purchases because there are no hard feelings if you don’t buy anything! I appreciate when people attend my parties just for the experience and fun, or refer friends who do have an interest in purchasing or joining!

    1. I agree with you that a networking business has so much to offer people. Some people just want to save money, some want to make money, and some want to do both. I enjoy meeting people at these parties. There is so little face time in the world anymore, I hope to see a resurgence of these types of businesses.

  3. That’s totally not true!! I use to work in corporate and it was just horrible. All the backstabbing and drama. All the fancy diners and lunches for sales or profit increasing but my paycheck always stayed the same. No thank you! Pure Romance has changed many women lives. And for the record the company pays you a commission it doesn’t come out of the consultant under her check, her money is her money. And you don’t have to build a team to make money. Why bring something that encourage positivity down! Dang people get their money how they get their money. Some women actually need the products we provide. And we do help women feel sexy again! Would you rather they walk inside some cheesy adult novelty store with some 18 year old kid at the counters.

  4. That’s really funny, because I keep well documented spreadsheets on my costs and spreadsheets and I have consistently made over $1,000 in profits for the last 6 months, not including what I set aside for taxes. Guess how many women I have on my team Hint: It’s zero. I sell a great product. Just because you put the word “psychology” in the title of the article doesn’t mean you have any kind of credible information expressed here. Get a life. Pure Romance might help you with that! 😉

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