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Of Endorsements and ACN

About two years ago I blogged about a pyramid scam by the name of ACN, a company in the business of reselling telecommunication services through multi-level marketing. It's the most-read and most-linked-to article on my blog.

It also generates a lot of e-mail. I've been breathlessly thanked by people who say it helped them or a loved one avoid the scam, and I've also received a lot of hate mail from ACN true believers (including my favorite hate mail ever).

Less often, I've received a third type of mail, asking me to counter ACN propaganda. These letters are all very similar in content — almost scripted (you'll see what I mean) — so I believe that the questions have a common origin and are actually asked during ACN recruitment meetings as a way to counter skeptics like me.

Sometimes these letters are sent by obvious ACN boosters just trying to get a "dig" in, and I typically ignore those. But other times I believe the letters are sent in genuine uncertainty, and for those people I will answer the propaganda.

This is the most recent such letter I've received:

I recently read your article about ACN being a pyramid scam, i have a few friends who have joined it and want me to join it, so i did some reasearch on how much of a scam it was and your page was the only one i found. I just want to know from you, since you seem to be the only one that did research on it and does not support it what your answers are to some of my questions, reading what you have said makes me even more unconfident about it but i just want to ask a few questions that seem to contradict my thoughts if you wouldn't mind?

1) If ACN was indeed a pyramid scam, why would Donald Trump, a world famous billionaire known for his business savvy and skills, put his reputation and name on the line so pubicly if he knew it was a scam? Wouldn't he have found that it was and not endorse it as much as he does?

2) How has ACN made front page on acclaimed business magazines such as Success Magazine, Success from Home Magazine, Smart Business Magazine, etc. if they are indeed a scam? Wouldn't someone from one of those articles have realized this?

I hope you can answer my questions quickly, so i can provide the information to my friends and let them decide. Thank you for your time.

Yes, Donald Trump has endorsed ACN. Celebrity endorsement is common in marketing — it works! But it's important to notice that this is a celebrity endorsement, not an expert endorsement. Trump's expertise is in real estate, not in reselling telecommunication services. If he were giving advice about real estate I would be inclined to pay attention, but ACN's business is totally unrelated to Trump's expertise. His opinion does not deserve greater weight than any random person's opinion.

The cited business magazines are not well-known. I haven't heard of any of them before. Who writes them, and for what audience? Do they contain objective information or are they propaganda? The multi-level marketing universe is only sustained by the inflow of new recruits… people who might be persuaded to join by reading a purportedly neutral magazine that's actually written for the express purpose of seducing people into the system.

If you have any of those magazines, here are some good questions to ask: Is it still being published? How long has it been publishing? Does it contain useful information, or is it primarily testimonials? Are there any negative testimonials? Does it fairly present the possibility and implications of business failure as well as success?

In closing, a few philosophical remarks. The ACN propaganda is treacherous because it preys on sloppy thinking. You should not trust a celebrity endorsement or the accolades of obscure magazines. You are capable of understanding the program's details on your own with just a little study. Think about it. Don't rely on the second-hand evaluations of others — not even mine. Keep your focus on analyzing the program itself, rather than the people talking about it. Do the math.

Other peoples' thoughts about something may properly be considered during the process of understanding it, but it is evil to use use others' thoughts as a substitute for your own. Be informed by others; recognize when they have insight, and watch for those who don't. But know that the responsibility for evaluation is your own. Whether you admit it or not.

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