FTC vs. AdvoCare: A Teachable Moment for Direct Selling
Jeffrey A. Babener, of Portland, Oregon, is the principal attorney in the law firm of Babener & Associates. For more than 30 years, he has advised leading U.S. and foreign companies in the direct selling industry, including many members of the U.S. Direct Selling Association. He has served as legal advisor to various major direct selling companies, including Avon, Amway, Herbalife, USANA, and Nu Skin.
He has lectured and published extensively on direct selling. Jeff is a graduate of the University of Southern California Law School. He is an active member of the State Bars of California and Oregon.
Guest Post by Jeff Babener
FTC vs. AdvoCare: A Teachable Moment for Direct Selling
History is Written by the Victor
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
– Anthem, Leonard Cohen
It was like the calm of quiet uncertainty before the storm. In May, 2019, 26-year-old leading direct selling company, AdvoCare, announced that it would exit MLM in favor of a one level direct sales model. It indicated that it was doing so, and “had no choice,” after confidential talks with the FTC. That was it. No other explanation. And the industry asked: What is this all about? It may be true, as T.S. Elliot said, “the world will end in a whimper, not a bang.” For a detailed article on the May withdrawal and ramifications, see AdvoCare Abandons MLM: Uncertainty Returns to Direct Selling.
A Jarring Dissonance
The FTC Speaks
And then, in October 2019, a cacophony, as the other shoe dropped. The FTC announced a stipulated judgment in which AdvoCare was proclaimed online and in newspapers across the country as a pernicious pyramid scheme that had swindled hundreds of thousands.
The settlement came with a $150m fine, life time MLM bans for AdvoCare’s CEO and top distributors, and the FTC spiked the ball in the end zone, noting at its press conference, “It is significant that we have a large and well known multilevel marketing company that is admitting that it operated as a pyramid… “
Sending an underlined message across the bow of the direct selling industry, the FTC online blog labeled the case as “the landmark settlement.”
“Foul!,” called AdvoCare in an immediate responsive press release:
“The FTC incorrectly stated in a press conference that AdvoCare had admitted to operating as a pyramid. This is categorically false. AdvoCare forcefully rebutted this charge in its discussions with the FTC. To this day, AdvoCare denies it operated as a pyramid.”
Actually, AdvoCare was technically right… No such admission had been given (although it had stipulated to the veracity of the factual allegations in the Complaint), prompting the Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection to later apologize at the Washington, D.C. DSA Legal and Regulatory Conference.
A pyrrhic victory for AdvoCare, whose marketing program and opportunity for thousands of distributors was totally gutted. “Elvis had left the building.”
FTC Has Non-Legal Leverage. What Now?
This was the third major DSA member company hit by the FTC in less than 5 years. And the FTC accomplished its goals, without litigation, but rather the sheer leverage it had over the companies and individuals based on their unique factual situation. For Vemma, an asset freeze. For Herbalife, the overriding need to address its position as a publicly traded company. For AdvoCare, industry speculation about the unstated jeopardy of owners and board members, as well as existential threat to the business. For better or worse, the FTC accomplished its objectives in all three cases without taking the matter to formal adjudication. Therefore, the new quasi legal standards were set by FTC leverage, without firing a litigation shot, rather than by actual case law. Case law did not change.
Serious? To paraphrase a general counsel of one of the industry’s largest MLM companies: “Our first priority is not to prepare for a FTC confrontation, but rather to use our best efforts to stay off their radar in the first place.”
More to come? Could well be. The industry was left with a choice. It could wring its hands or treat this as a teachable moment for its future. As they say, a new reality, and “it is what it is.”
From the industry’s perspective, were the penalties draconian? Absolutely. Might it have been more appropriate to adopt a remedial solution rather than ban the entire MLM model? Absolutely. But that is another issue for another day.
The initial instinct of the industry was to recoil from a near death blow to a 26-year-old industry leader and longtime DSA member, complaining of a new era of FTC bullying. But, as the facts unraveled, some real concerns arise as “the crack in the bell lets the light in.” Maybe, it was not about bullying after all. The industry needs to pay serious attention and self- reflection about guidance it provides to its own companies.
Fact Checking the FTC and AdvoCare
What were the facts in issue from the standpoint of the FTC and AdvoCare? Well, as far as AdvoCare, we will never know. The company capitulated, without even filing one defensive document. And so, all we really can discern is what the FTC alleged. And from a legal standpoint, their version “stands” because, notwithstanding a preamble that states that AdvoCare neither admits nor denies any of the allegations in the Complaint, the stipulated order for permanent injunction and monetary judgment, recites:
VI.(D) The facts alleged in the Complaint will be taken as true, without further proof, in any subsequent civil litigation by or on behalf of the Commission against Settling Defendants…”
And so, we won’t really hear AdvoCare’s explanation. All we have is the uncontested FTC Complaint allegations. And history suggests that this “neither admit nor deny” stipulated order will morph into a “de facto” FTC guidance in the future.
The big picture said the FTC is that the facts support that AdvoCare crossed the line from operating a legitimate MLM program to a program that was instead an illegal pyramid scheme.
For the uncertainty created by no clear adjudication of such important issues, the industry owes “no thanks” to AdvoCare for its decision to merely “roll over,” despite contending after the settlement order that it had forcefully rebutted the pyramid charge in pre-settlement discussions with the FTC. Unfortunately, the “game over buzzer” had already sounded.
History Repeats Itself: Omnitrition Déjà Vu…
Other than ramped up aggressive enforcement and penalties (life time MLM bans for the CEO and lead distributors and forcing AdvoCare to abandon the MLM model), those looking for new insight in the AdvoCare prosecution, will not find it.
This was the opinion of the FTC and its Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith, and a historical legal perspective would come to the same conclusion.
The AdvoCare prosecution can be summed up in a few words:
1. Inventory Loading. In other words, “pay to play,” “buy in to active qualification for “active” rank commissions and rank advancement commissions; purchasing far more product than realistically needed for either personal use or to meet resale demand to customers, focusing on recruiting business builders who buy inventory and encourage others to do the same.
2. Exaggerated Earnings Claims. It is eerie, but this is a “history repeats itself” moment. In 1996, in Webster v. Omnitrition, (79 F.3d 776) the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, held Omnitrition to be a pyramid scheme based on the company recruitment of business builders qualified with inventory loading, who in turn, did the same. Omnitrition was co-founded by Charlie Ragus. In 1993, Ragus founded AdvoCare. It is a sad irony that 26 years later, the Ragus founded AdvoCare MLM program would be shuttered by similar inventory loading accusations as in Omnitrition.
The Omnitrition Court held that the well venerated Amway safeguards meant nothing if not enforced and if, in the presence of inventory loading:
The promise of lucrative rewards for recruiting others tends to induce participants to focus on the recruitment side of the business at the expense of their retail marketing efforts, making it unlikely that meaningful opportunities for retail sales will occur. Koscot, 86 F.T.C. at 1181. The danger of such “recruitment focus” is present in Omnitrition’s program. For example, Webster testified that Omnitrition encouraged him to “get to supervisor as quick as [he] could.” Ligon states:
[T]he product sales are driven by enrolling people. In other words, the people buy exorbitant amounts of products that normally would not be sold in an average market by virtue of the fact that they enroll, get caught up in the process, in the enthusiasm, the words of people like Charlie Ragus, president, by buying exorbitant amounts of products, giving products away and get[ting] involved in their proven plan of success, their marketing plan. It has nothing to do with the normal supply and demand in this world. It has to do with getting people enrolled, enrolling people, getting them on the bandwagon and getting them to sell product…
FN3… First, Omnitrition produced evidence of enforcement only for its ten customer rule. Even assuming that Omnitrition’s enforcement measures are effective, it is not clear that these measures serve to tie the amount of “Royalty Overrides” to retail sales. The overrides are paid based on purchases by supervisors. In order to be a supervisor, one must purchase several thousand dollars’ worth of product each month. That some amount of product was sold by each supervisor to only ten consumers each month does not insure that overrides are being paid as a result of actual retail sales.
Fast Forward 23 years and it all sounds the same. Said the FTC in its Press Release and Blog about AdvoCare:
AdvoCare operated an illegal pyramid scheme that pushed distributors to focus on recruiting new distributors rather than retail sales to customers. The compensation structure also incentivized distributors to purchase large quantities of AdvoCare products to participate in the business and to recruit a downline of other participants with the same incentives. The clear directive of this structure was, as one AdvoCare distributor explained during the company’s Success School training, to “recruit business builders who recruit business builders who recruit business builders…”
The FTC alleged that under the AdvoCare compensation plan, participants were charged $59 to become a distributor, making them eligible to receive discounts on products, and to sell products to the public. To earn all possible forms of compensation, however, participants had to become “advisors,” which typically required them to spend between $1,200 and $2,400 purchasing AdvoCare products and accumulate thousands of dollars of product purchase volume each year, according to the complaint. The FTC alleged that the income of AdvoCare advisors was based on their success at recruiting, with the highest rewards going to those who recruited the most advisors and generated the most purchase volume from their downline.
To recruit people, the FTC alleged, AdvoCare and the other defendants told distributors to make exaggerated claims about how much money average people could make—as much as hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year. The FTC alleged that distributors were told to create emotional narratives in which they struggled financially before they joined AdvoCare, but obtained financial success through AdvoCare. Distributors were also allegedly told to instill fears in potential recruits that they would suffer from regrets later if they declined to invest in AdvoCare.
The FTC alleged that the defendants told consumers that they could realize large incomes by promoting AdvoCare and that their earning capacity was limited only by their effort. For example, AdvoCare promoter Diane McDaniel told consumers that “the sky is the limit. I’m the variable. I get to decide what I truly want according to the effort I put forth” and that “there is incredible profit that can be made through infinity.”
In reality, the FTC alleged, AdvoCare did not offer consumers a viable path to financial freedom. In 2016, 72.3 percent of distributors did not earn any compensation from AdvoCare; another 18 percent earned between one cent and $250; and another 6 percent earned between $250 and $1,000. The annual earnings distribution was nearly identical for 2012 through 2015.
… people paid AdvoCare thousands of dollars to become “distributors,” buy inventory, and become eligible for cash bonuses and other rewards. But, the FTC says, AdvoCare rewarded distributors not for selling product but for recruiting other distributors to spend large sums of money pursuing the business opportunity. That push to recruit is a classic sign of a pyramid scheme.
On the earnings front, the FTC also alleged that AdvoCare earnings disclosures played fast and loose with earnings averages by extrapolating data of one month’s earnings into an annual earnings average, when in fact, the month chosen might not be a recurring event.
Legal observers are perplexed how it could happen after Omnitrition litigation that the same “front loading” fact pattern might occur again in a related successor company. Probably, the answer is that, unless one is extremely careful, these things just “creep up on you.
Unfortunately, the cultural problem was not new and was a bit of a “tiger by the tail.” The focus on recruiting and duplicating “front loading” business builders was suggested by a legal expert, who was also a former insider knowledgeable observer, to predate the FTC Order by more than a dozen years:
AdvoCare leaders encouraged new distributors to “buy their Advisor order” ($2,000) so they could begin earning commissions sooner. This was ingrained in the distributor culture… there were efforts made to discourage this and ensure that products purchased through “advisor orders” were sold to retail customers. …AdvoCare was a victim of its own success and it was unable to reign in leaders… Existing problems only become magnified when you go through a period of hyper-growth similar to what AdvoCare experienced.
Based on the “uncontested” alleged facts set forth by the FTC, serious pyramiding issues are raised. And that is all we have. Without a vigorous defense by AdvoCare, or, in fact, any defense at all, and based on the FTC Settlement Order providing that “facts alleged will be deemed to be true,” it is far more than a challenge for industry supporters to come to the support of AdvoCare in this dispute. This is a true loss for the direct selling industry. The silence of AdvoCare left the industry in an awkward uninformed position with no arrows in its quiver, akin to a performer on stage pleading, “Throw me a bone, I’m dying up here.”
State of the Law
The FTC and the direct selling Industry are totally in sync on one point:
Nothing about the FTC/AdvoCare settlement changes the existing legal standards for pyramid vs. legitimate direct selling. Those case law standards weave their way in FTC cases from the Koscot case through Amway through Burnlounge:
Koscot: Multilevel commissions must be based on sales to ultimate users.
Amway: Multilevel companies must adopt procedures that encourage retail selling.
Omnitrition: (9th Circuit Class Action): In the presence of front-loading and lack of enforcement of the Amway standards, companies can expect pyramid challenges.
Burnlounge: The primary incentive to distributor purchases or payments should be a genuine need, whether for resale or personal use, as opposed to qualification in the compensation plan. Are distributor payments and commissions driven by recruitment and qualification in the plan, on the one hand, or sales to ultimate users?
Andrew Smith, FTC Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, was in total agreement, in his presentation to the October, 2019 Washington D.C. DSA Legal and Regulatory Conference.
In a well-received presentation, and to the surprise of many attendees, he emphasized multiple times that the FTC is supportive of the MLM model. He went out of his way to express his opinion that, in some ways, MLM is a superior business model because:
1. It provides flexibility and opportunity to individuals to earn extra income.
2. It provides a warm and attentive experience, and qualify products, to retail consumers.
He stated that the FTC welcomes compliant MLM companies. And his standards were not measurably different than existing case law.
The FTC seems to have retreated from its all-out assault on recognition of personal use, as argued and rejected by the BurnLounge court. Its attention is now turned to the basic question of whether a MLM program is placing its focus on sales to ultimate users, which includes personal use purchases in reasonable amounts and wholesale purchases for resale, in amounts reasonably calculated to fulfill retail consumer demand and for which the company can track the flow of product to ultimate users such that compensation reasonable relates to sales to ultimate users. (As an aside, the Director played slightly “fast and loose” in describing the Koscot test as paying compensation “unrelated to product sales,” omitting three key words of Koscot, “to ultimate users,” thus leaving the erroneous impression that only product sales to non-participant retail customers should count. Such a position would be a misrepresentation by omission of the Koscot/BurnLounge standard.
But overall, Director Smith’s description of the state of the law seemed consistent with case law. He suggested this analysis:
1. Does the scheme emphasize recruiting over sales to consumers? Are compensation results driven by recruiting others? Are distributors focused on recruitment and duplication rewards arising from recruiting other distributors to “buy?” Does that plan have a qualifier relating to recruitment?
2. Does the program have incentives to buy goods that are not based on satisfying a distributor’s own personal needs or reasonable inventory to supply retail customers? A telltale pattern would be monthly purchases just enough to meet compensation qualification activity requirements. Another would be front-loading which Director Smith indicated as an attribute of pyramid schemes. His observation of AdvoCare was that distributors were encouraged to buy and did buy for more than they reasonably needed or could use.
He stated that the FTC key questions are:
1. How do distributors really make money in the plan?
2. Does the company have incentives that promote recruiting and purchasing over sales?
3. Is the company gathering data to track product sales to end consumers?
Director Smith stressed:
1. At the FTC, we want you to be successful as a MLM.
2. However, we also want you to be in compliance as an MLM.
3. Effectively, he said, “we are not looking for a fight, and we want you to stay off our radar,” and he implored companies to examine and reexamine their programs to remove any practices that would put a company on the FTC radar.
4. He stated the FTC position, which no one in the industry disputes, is that a pyramid headhunting inventory loading recruitment scheme is unsustainable as a business model.
Unless completely cynical, given the tenor of his presentation, it seems fair to take Director Smith at his word. Refreshing! The industry can live with this going forward.
Guidance for Radar Avoidance in a Post-AdvoCare World
Every breath you take
Every move you make…
I’ll be watching you
– Every Breath You Take, Sting, The Police
If you are looking for life in a post-FTC vs. AdvoCare/Herbalife/Vemma world, here are some common sense guidelines to create the strongest defense to your MLM program and for promoting anti-pyramid practices aimed at staying off the FTC radar:
1. Overriding Goal… The Big Picture.
The compliant MLM “acid test” will be a mandate and demonstration of significant sales to non-participant retail customers. Bottom line analysis by FTC and state AGs:
A product or service with real retail customers and a good ratio of retail customers to distributors to demonstrate that people buy the product because they want it, and not just to qualify in the marketing plan.
Upline commissions must derive from sale of product to ultimate end users.
With a high retail customer to distributor ratio, experience suggests that most other legal issues (assuming no outrageous earnings or product claims) tend to recede into the background.
2. Track. Track… Flow of Product to and Use by the Ultimate User.
After Vemma, Herbalife and AdvoCare, few priorities are as important as tracking and verifying the flow of product to and use by the ultimate user, whether it be a nonparticipant retail customer or distributor for personal/family use. The short answer: Track the flow and use of product to both nonparticipant retail customers and distributor personal/family use. In fact every company and the DSA should launch a joint initiative with leading direct selling software companies to develop software which accurately tracks the flow of product such that a company can demonstrate that distributor purchases are, in fact, in reasonable amounts for distributor personal use and reasonable inventory quantities for resale, calculated to meet the ordering needs of retail customers. And software should track that every product sold is used by the ultimate user, whether for personal use by distributors or use by non-participant retail customers.
3. Promote Non-Participant Retail Sales and a Preferred Customer Program.
It is in everyone’s interest, the company, distributors, the industry and regulators, to place an emphasis on retail sales to non-participant customers. After all, the business is called “direct selling,” and not “direct consumption.” The promotion of retailing should find a thread through every piece of company literature and advertising.
In addition the gold standard of retailing is the presence of non-participant preferred customers, i.e., those retail customers that are provided incentives and discounts to commit to monthly or orderly product purchases. From a legal standpoint, a robust preferred customer program makes the statement that there is a real market for the product and purchasers are purchasing because they want the product as opposed to being motivated by qualifying in the business opportunity.
4. Time to Rethink Personal/Group Volume Qualification Requirements for Active Status, Rank Status, Rank Advancement Commission Payout if the Volume is Based on Distributor Purchases that are Not Clearly Documented as End User Personal Use of Distributors or Retail Customers.
In fact, some leading direct selling companies have already initiated elimination of volume requirements for active status, fast start commissions, rank status, rank advancement and payment of enhanced commissions. The FTC has long expressed a deep concern for volume requirements that tend to trigger inventory loading or distributor purchases that are not driven by consumer demand, but instead for purposes of qualification.
Said Former FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez in her remarks at the DSA Business and Policy Conference in September, 2016: “Any requirements or incentives that participants purchase product for reasons other than satisfying genuine consumer demand – such as to join the business opportunity, maintain or advance their status, or qualify for compensation payments—are problematic.”
In Vemma and Herbalife, companies were restricted on credit that could be accorded to distributor purchases, whether for personal use or resale. Many companies are reconsidering volume requirements that are documented as reasonable personal use or retail sales. Unless a company is prepared to track end destination of product, it should reconsider volume requirements that cause suspicion that the products are purchased to qualify and not driven by consumer need.
Above all, rewards should reasonably relate to sales to end users (personal use plus retail customers.
There are multiple approaches to compensation for multilevel payments on downline purchases.
(a) The Herbalife settlement limited credit to downline distributor purchases (only about one-third of distributor purchases qualified for credit for MLM commissions.)
(b) Pay MLM commissions only after verification of personal use or sale.
(c) Pay MLM commissions at time of purchase, but absolutely track and verify personal use and sale of product purchased for resale.
5. Rethink Distributor Ordering Methods that Produce “Inventory Loading” Accusations. Use a Ramp-Up Authorization Approach that Authorizes Increasing Wholesale Orders Based on Demonstration of Retail Sales.
Above all: Do not allow distributors to purchase more than they can use for reasonable personal use and/or quantities for there is a realistic resale to retail consumer need.
Actually, in today’s world of next day UPS and FedEx, online ordering and direct to consumer shipping, there really is no need any more for large inventory purchases or stocking distributors.
Approaches for Avoiding Inventory Loading:
(a) Eliminate or reduce volume requirements for active, rank, rank advancement.
(b) Allow volume, but track and pay only on personal use level of volume or wholesale for resale volume that is verified sold to retail customers.
(c) Limit amount of inventory or, at least, install a ramp-up authorization based on demonstrated sale and/or personal use.
6. Bulletproof Yourself on Earnings Claims. Don’t be the Nail that Sticks Up and Gets Hammered Down.
Avoid earnings hype in advertising, testimonials and lifestyle presentations. Scuttle the Maserati and the Tuscan villa images. Be realistic… this is the anomaly and not the norm. Take the bullseye off your forehead. In almost every FTC case, the first invitation to regulators is unrealistic earnings claims. The hype “opens” the door or lifts the canopy of the tent. And, as they say, “Once the camel has his nose in the tent, you can be assured that his ‘body’ will soon follow.”
In other words, don’t be the low-lying fruit. Don’t effectively, and unintentionally, “bait” the FTC to initiate an enforcement action by over-aggressive hype and promises.
Absolutely do not make claims of wealth, fast wealth, easy money or sure-fire systems, nor effectively invite the FTC to inquire into a program based on earnings hype and systems based on distributor “purchasing” rather than distributor “selling” and “using.”
And whether legal or not, now is the time to “ditch” the pictures and videos of distributor mansions and luxury cars. Since such MLM-driven lifestyles are clearly the exception to the rule, why wear a red flag in front of a “bull.”
7. Post a Transparent Earnings Disclosure.
As a general matter, the FTC is all about disclosure so that consumers can make informed decisions. Once you have a track record, post a simple and transparent average earnings disclosure. At a minimum, you should disclose:
(a) What percentage of distributors who have signed up are active, i.e., earning any income?
(b) Of those that are active, what is the average earnings?
(c) If any example, testimonial or illustration of a particular income, bonus or lifestyle award is presented, what percentage of active distributors earn at least that amount or above?
(d) Unless the company surveys average costs of doing business by distributors, earnings averages should be represented as “gross earnings” and that they are not “net earnings.”
(e) Absolutely disclaim that any earnings illustrations are representations of an expectation of earnings.
(f) “Pepper” promotional material with average earnings disclosures and disclaimers at every instance that an illustration/testimonial of earnings potential is
(g) Either calculate average business costs to disclose net earnings or specifically disclose that average earnings are presented as “gross,” as opposed to “net” and do not take into account distributor business costs.
Irrespective of the depth of the earnings disclosure, do not ever play fast and loose with earnings disclosures, nor “parse” to exaggerate the opportunity.
During his presentation to the DSA Legal and Regulatory Conference, FTC Director raised a new “ask” by the FTC. He suggested that companies should not only present gross earnings, but should also present net earnings which take into account costs of doing business by distributors. Upon questioning, he recognized that this may be a daunting task. At the very least, he suggested that companies should disclose that their typical average earnings disclosures are “gross earnings” and, not net earnings, i.e., they do not take into account distributor costs of doing business. Look for more of this “ask” in the future.
8. Adopt, Follow and Enforce the Amway Safeguards.
The Amway safeguards have been the gold standard and been honored in case after case going on 40 years. Although the FTC may wish to pivot away from the Amway safeguards, the courts have not done so.
(a) 70% rule to avoid inventory loading… no ordering unless 70% of previous orders have been sold or used for personal/family use. Place lids on initial orders and allow a ramp up of size of order over time. Never mandate monthly autoship to qualify for commissions. And avoid front-loading. In the famous Omnitrition case, the court noted that the Amway safeguards are rendered ineffectual as a defense to pyramiding if a company encourages or allows front-loading of product because it becomes clear that commissions are not related to sales to ultimate users when distributors are incentivized to buy huge amounts of inventory that are out of proportion to needs for resale or the needs of personal and family use.
(b) Adopt and enforce an actual nonparticipant retail sales mandate to qualify to receive commissions. Over the years, that number has been expressed in numbers from five to ten or in sales volume … often with an allowable ramp up over time.
(c) Honor a buyback policy on inventory and sales support materials for terminating distributors… no less than 90% for 12 months.
9. Consider a Reclassification Program to Convert Non-Earning Distributors to Preferred Customers.
In a new FTC enforcement era, the “name of the game” is demonstrating high ratios of non-participant retail customers to active distributors. In the retailing analysis, non-participant retail customers, who are provided discounts or other incentives in exchange for signing up as “preferred customers,” are like “gold” in “upping” the ratios. Watch for direct selling companies to use major initiatives to convert to preferred customers distributors who are loyal product purchasers, but who are not really “working the opportunity,” i.e., low or no earning in the direct selling opportunity.
The conversion can be voluntary or non-voluntary.
For instance, in the Herbalife settlement, Herbalife was given nine months to work on a reclassification of brand loyal, but low earning distributors, to preferred customers so that the non-participant retailing ratios would be increased for personal use purchases. Other leading companies, such as USANA, followed suit, substantially increasing retailing ratios.
Another path that companies may wish to consider is automatic involuntary conversion. Under this approach a company would adopt an automatic reclassification program that automatically reclassifies non-earning independent representatives to preferred retail customers, all the while providing superb discount pricing, special customer benefits, generous customer appreciation referral rewards. If the converted preferred customer later decides to reactivate, the company might even consider providing an option for the right, after a waiting period or based on customer referral activity, to re-sign up as an active independent representative in a reserved genealogical downline position.
10. Promote Industry Guidance on Compliant Compensation Plans.
Similar to the DSA initiative on earnings claims compliance of the Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council (DSSRC), support the launch of a DSA task force to develop best practices compensation plan guidelines and to continuously audit and constructively advise member DSA companies for avoiding pyramiding accusations of the sort raised by the FTC in Vemma, Herbalife and AdvoCare.
11. Support Clear Federal Legislation on Direct Selling.
Companies should actively support DSA federal legislative action to set forth clear anti-pyramiding guidelines so that the FTC, states and companies are playing on the same field with the same rules and goalpost settings.