ACN – American Communications Network – is a multi-level marketing (MLM) company dealing in telecommunications technology and plans, television, energy, and other services. As per Wikipedia,
Multi-level marketing (MLM) is a marketing strategy in which the sales force is compensated not only for sales they personally generate, but also for the sales of the other salespeople that they recruit. This recruited sales force is referred to as the participant’s “downline”, and can provide multiple levels of compensation. Other terms for MLM include pyramid selling, network marketing, and referral marketing.
I have redded Pyramid as it is the concept by which this general sort of business model is best known. We’ve all heard of “pyramid schemes” and “pyramid scams”. The precise legality of MLMs and pyramid selling appears to be at least somewhat murky. The reasons for widespread skepticism regarding this sort of business structure, however, is crystal clear. From Wikipedia,
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states “Steer clear of multilevel marketing plans that pay commissions for recruiting new distributors. They’re actually illegal pyramid schemes. Why is pyramiding dangerous? Because plans that pay commissions for recruiting new distributors inevitably collapse when no new distributors can be recruited. And when a plan collapses, most people – except perhaps those at the very top of the pyramid – end up empty-handed.”
Not all pyramid selling organizations are the same. I’m not going to comment as to whether ACN has engaged in illegal activities. However, putting legality/illegality aside, I do think there is reason for caution.
Well, for starters, take a look at this Fox News piece on them (this is probably the first time I’ve ever covered something from Fox News in a sympathetic manner):
In case you didn’t watch it, a few bullet points:
- ACN-ers pay $500 USD to join;
- The company’s own lawyer admitted that most ACN-ers probably do not turn a profit;
- As per the lawyer, it is against company policy for ACN representatives to make any promises regarding income generation to potential new recruits. Nevertheless, Fox has footage of reps doing precisely that (to the tune of $33,000 USD a month within six months) at a major recruitment event.
- The video featured several interviews of people both for and against ACN. The proponents spoke of it as a great opportunity and great company made up of great people. The opponents panned it as a dishonest pyramid scheme that puts more emphasis on recruiting new ACN members than selling product (i.e., a classic feature of pyramid schemes).
Why else am I skeptical?
This is what I saw upon doing my first Google search of “acn”. Indeed, ACN Scam themed articles are plentiful among the top search returns. Clicking through some of these links, you can read stories of many disgruntled former paying members and friends and loved ones of members. Complaints include widespread accusations of deception, preying on the vulnerable, that various elements of the ACN economic system serve to pressure ACN members into continually buying more and more ACN products (or else they will forfeit their commissions on prior sales), various ongoing costs associated with ACN training programs, ACN-linked problems in the private social lives of members (e.g., friends distancing themselves), and simply not making money.
Of course, there are also plenty of pro-ACN videos and articles. There are those that pitch the virtues and opportunities to thrive offered through ACN. They obviously present the company in a very positive, successful, auspicious, and exciting light. They will profile ACN success stories. And, of course, they speak of Donald Trump: their most famous supporter.
There are also articles and videos that specifically respond to accusations of ACN being a scam. This includes advising that ACN is a law-abiding company. Another Common theme in these videos and articles is one of blaming the individual unsuccessful member for any lack of success. That is, if you bought into ACN but weren’t a success, it’s because you didn’t try hard enough, want it enough, work at it enough, etc. It’s all YOUR fault. It’s never that maybe ACN or the rep that brought you in might have done anything to give you unreasonably high expectations. It’s not that maybe the services that you are attempting to sell to people (e.g., phone plans) aren’t always as cheap as they first appear. It’s you.
Now, the spin isn’t always negative. Sometimes the tone is encouraging and constructive – e.g., “it takes hard work and dedication!”, “if you don’t quit, you can’t fail”, “you just gotta try harder!” (Note: This is me paraphrasing the general tone; not a verbatim transcription). Of course, maybe some people don’t want to try harder if trying harder means pestering their families, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, mailmen or passer-byes around town. Furthermore, a key part of the ACN pitch is that you can invest as little or as much of yourself as you like. That pitch probably wouldn’t be as appealing if it was book-ended by “but if you don’t want to work hard, there’s a good chance you won’t make much money at all. Now, please make that $500 cheque out to ACN Inc”.
Officially, ACN makes a point of not promising anything. On the other hand, their representatives have been observed by many (including me) to present ACN as a very, very, very promising venture. All positive and negative spinning aside, at the end of the day, for whatever reasons, most ACN-ers probably aren’t making a profit. And that’s not me saying that. That’s the company’s own lawyer on Fox News.
How Did I Come Into Contact With ACN?
Why am I even talking about any of this?
Close to a year ago a new acquaintance in my home of Kelowna, BC, Canada mentioned this “exciting new business opportunity!”. She told me that I seemed like a pretty smart guy and asked if I was interested in new business opportunities. The reasonably open-minded fellow I am, I said that I’d be open to learning more. She told me that it’s a fairly new business involved in the selling of telecommunications and energy services. I asked her what the company’s name was. She didn’t tell me. But she did however say that they’re doing presentations in the next few weeks and that I could learn more about it there. She asked if she could give my telephone number to the information session organizer. I okayed this.
Soon enough I received a telephone call from the person that she had passed my number onto. He came off as a sort of slick, polished, enthusiastic, infomercial-esque kind of guy. Didn’t really strike me as very authentic. Anyhow, we chatted. He told me more about ACN, though never telling me the company’s name. Indeed, I asked him over and over and over again what the company is called. He continued to decline, saying that it was really important to him that he get the chance to present the company to me first.
He invited me to come meet with him and perhaps one or two other people for coffee, at which time he would tell me all about the company – including its name. Then I would be able to research it to my heart’s content. I told him that it makes me very skeptical that he is so nervous to tell me the company name. That if he’s so excited and confident about this company, why is he so reluctant for me to read up on it before I meet him? I told him that, in my experience, the only time I had ever seen anyone be this secretive was when they had something embarrassing and/or incriminating to hide. I cited the “Church” of Scientology.
He continued to say that he will give me the name, but he just wants to get first dibs to present the company to me. I told him that I will absolutely, positively NOT be coming to meet with him or anyone else from his organization without the information that I have asked for up front: THE NAME OF THE COMPANY! (It’s not like I was asking him for his social insurance number?!). He finally conceded, sending me a link to his personal ACN representative website.
I spent about 10 minutes watching video and looking at the content of the website. Then I did the aforementioned Google search… It wasn’t long before I sent the rep a text message informing him that I was not interested. He wished me well and that was all…. Until I start seeing…
ACN Information Meetings in Kelowna
Twice in the past few weeks I’ve seen ACN info sessions of the sort that I had been invited to unfolding at local Kelowna Starbucks locations. These weren’t big events or anything. Just a few people sitting and chatting over coffee. In the first case, they happened to sit down right next to me. I overheard much of the conversation. Before I even heard the name I was 95% sure it was ACN. It was.
In each of these cases I managed to deliver a quick, subtle message to the recruitees. I simply told them the following:
ACN might be a pyramid scheme. Do YOUR research. DON’T trust me. Just look it up before you commit to anything.
In the latter case, in addition to encouraging the fellow to NOT take my word for anything, and saying that they might be a pyramid scheme, I said lastly that what he does is his business and no concern of mine, but my saying all this to him is just something I felt I had to do if I’m to be able to look at myself in the mirror.
And that’s the advice I’d give to anyone who sees this article. If an ACN rep approaches you and you’re considering joining up, just do what anyone considering any business venture should do: look before you leap.
And, of course, that includes hearing their side, too. I’ve personally spoken to three ACN reps, at least one of them at or near the bottom rung of the organization. One was the recruiter on the telephone. All three have spoken positively about the company. I’d be more interested in seeing some hard numbers, of course. And this isn’t quite as compelling as the company’s own lawyer saying that most of its members probably do not make a profit. But hey, there’s a few more data points for you.
Unfortunately, I can’t recommend the Wikipedia ACN article, which is prefaced with the following pre-article message: The following message:
A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject. It may require cleanup to comply with Wikipedia’s content policies, particularly neutral point of view. Please discuss further on the talk page. (July 2012)
Make of that what you will…