Does Mary Kay Think It’s Above the Law?
MLM making deceptive claims after several warnings.
Why the MLM industry should avoid the term.
| Laura Smith
Time freedom. You see this term used everywhere in the multilevel marketing world these days. In fact, there are currently more than 860,000 posts on Instagram that bear the hashtag #timefreedom. And in a recent investigation into North Carolina-based MLM Market America, TINA.org catalogued more than 250 marketing materials published by the company in just nine months that used the hashtag #timefreedom.
Maybe it’s because financial freedom – a term used across the industry for years to advertise the MLM business opportunity – was starting to get a bad rap. Mentions in numerous TINA.org investigations and FTC enforcement actions, as well as in recent guidance from the Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council (DSSRC), specifically designating financial freedom as a deceptive income claim have hammered the message home. So, after putting the scarlet letter on financial freedom, the industry pivoted and is now using the term time freedom – and the more general term freedom – to market MLM business opportunities. (Caution: Don’t be fooled into thinking the term financial freedom is a thing of the past. It’s not. Some companies and many distributors still use this term liberally, while others, including the Direct Selling Association itself, have dropped the term in favor of time freedom.)
So what’s the issue with time freedom? After all, it can be difficult to advertise a business opportunity without some promise of a better life. But a closer examination reveals why this term is every bit as insidious and deceptive as financial freedom – and maybe even more so.
Why Time Freedom = Financial Freedom
What does time freedom mean? Well, if it just means you don’t have a lot of things to do that take up your time, then those who are unemployed presumably have time freedom, right? Heck, even those who are incarcerated might have time freedom. But let’s be honest, that’s not what MLMers mean by time freedom.
No, time freedom, according to the MLM community, means:
But, of course, you can’t quit your job or stay home with your kids or travel “whenever and wherever” unless you’re able to put food on the table and maintain a roof over your head.
Covering the basic necessities of life and its associated financial obligations is an important prerequisite to having leisure time. Which is why the term time freedom is inextricably linked to financial freedom.
In its Business Guidance Concerning Multi-Level Marketing, the FTC made clear that representations that MLM participants can “quit their jobs, ‘fire their bosses,’ or become stay-at-home parents” amount to representations that participants can earn career-level income.
Clearly, some MLMs have gotten the memo. On its website, Isagenix admits that claims such as quitting a job or staying at home are atypical income claims. And Market America, in response to an October 2020 TINA.org warning letter that specifically flagged the issue of time freedom, deleted the hashtag or entire posts containing the hashtag from more than 250 examples.
Time Freedom or Time Suck?
Even read literally, time freedom is not an accurate term for advertising the MLM business opportunity. First, numerous MLMs tell prospective distributors – typically, in easy-to-miss disclosures – that their success depends on how hard they work, i.e. how much time they put in. For example:
Second, many MLM distributors report spending endless hours trying to build their MLM business, with or without success. Former LuLaRoe distributors, for example, reported working far more than they had expected.
It’s a similar story from a former Beachbody distributor:
“You’re working your ass off. You’re having to check in every day in your group, you’re having to keep everybody motivated, because if they don’t lose weight and see results, they’re not going to keep buying from you,” says Baker, 48. “It was like I was just throwing money away.” By the time she gave up on Beachbody, Baker says, she’d lost several thousand dollars and countless hours that she wishes had been spent with her daughters.
And this from a former AdvoCare distributor:
“I spent the entire time on the phone trying to sell, giving my kids no attention, working 50 or 60 hours a week, more than I did before,” says Ludwig, 39
These reports are typical of what MLM distributors experience trying to build their businesses.
In a nutshell, claims of time freedom are doubly deceptive. The term misleadingly suggests distributors don’t have to work hard to succeed in the MLM industry and deceptively implies they’ll achieve financial freedom, which the MLM industry now acknowledges is a clear-cut deceptive income claim.
So maybe time freedom isn’t the new financial freedom after all. It’s even worse.
For more of TINA.org’s coverage of MLMs and income claims, click here.
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