Anyone in America with any sizeable social circle, particularly one that includes millennials, has probably encountered at least one Young Living Essential Oils ambassador. I’ve personally known several, and the first few were either so pushy as to turn me off from even exploring the product line or were so convinced oils have limitless powers (like curing cancer) as to make me believe they had been essentially indoctrinated into a cult.
And then I met Nancy. She’s a kind, generous friend who never pushed oils on me or balked at my many probing (and, admittedly, cynical) questions. When my milk supply started drying up when my daughter was only a few months old, Nancy gave me a roller of fennel oil, and my milk supply returned. When I shared that my husband sometimes has stomach issues, she gave me some Digize – an oil blend that is supposed to help with digestion.
Nancy was always so kind and generous that I eventually bought some oils from her, partially because my curiosity was piqued and partially because I just wanted to support my friend and thank her for being so gracious toward me. I never had any intention of selling oils to others myself (and to this day, I still have not sold any); I just wanted to support my friend and be done with it.
But in purchasing my PSK (Premium Starter Kit), I unknowingly entered the world of MLM (Multi Level Marketing). I started being inundated with texts and Facebook messages and Instagram stories from all manner of Young Living personnel, not just Nancy (who, if I asked to be taken off the distribution list, surely would oblige me). But Nancy’s “upline” and various diamond-encrusted platinum ambassadors constantly pushed various deals and bundles and promotions.
Everything was shared in superrrrr EXCITED voicing that totes emoted a very practiced, specific vibe. Y’all. I was constantly encouraged to grab ALLLL the goodness. — Don’t miss out! — And in case I needed an extra incentive to part with my money, there was always someone who LITERALLY COULDN’T WAIT to give away something like the GORGEOUS aria diffuser to one lucky person!!! All I had to do was place an order of $50 or more by the end of the day to have my name placed in a drawing!!!
There’s so much I could say – about Gary Young and his questionable past (sketchy), about whether or not essential oils are actually tested by a third party to determine their purity (also sketchy), about whether or not they work (some do!) — Maybe in other posts I will. But in this post, I just want to focus on what all I discovered about the MLM world in my first month of Young Living. And this is it in a nutshell: Young Living has a brilliant marketing strategy.
I, as a young mom, am the keeper of my home. I purchase all of our soaps and lotions and shampoos and toothpaste and candles. And when someone tells me that I am harming my family with the toxic products I bring into my home, I am willing to hear them out. There is a certain fear mongering coupled with virtue signaling that first opens the door to exploring essential oils. And then, since most Americans have very little financial savvy, once they are introduced to the rewards program, people end up completely bought in, especially when teased with the idea of making ambassadorship a full time job through which they can stay home and achieve “financial freedom”, to use the phrasing of Young Living.
Here’s how it works on the inside (from the perspective of someone on the very lowest rung who has never aspired to climb higher on the pyramid):
When ordering essential oils through the Young Living system, you have the choice of either placing your order through a Monthly Order or a One-time Order. One-time Orders are self-explanatory; they work just like if you placed an order on Amazon. Put items in your cart, check out, pay, and they are on their way. With Monthly Orders, you schedule what day of the month you want your recurring order to go through (for example, on the 15th day of each month). Between months, you can change what you want your Monthly Order’s content to be, so your “recurring order” doesn’t actually have to be the same order of oils each month. It’s just set up to auto-charge your credit card on the same day of the month each month for whatever Young Living products you have set up in your Monthly Order at that time.
So why choose one over the other? You are incentivized to place Monthly Orders because only Monthly Orders get you Rewards Points (like cash back, only in store credit). One-time Orders do not give you any Rewards Points. So obviously you would go with Monthly Orders, right? Here’s the catch: You can only place a Monthly Order if you order $50 or more of product. And then there is a shipping charge on top of that! AND the auto-generated shipping option (“Young Living’s choice”) costs $2 more and takes 2-5 days longer to arrive! You have to manually go in and override the auto-selected shipping option.
So, once I joined, I kept seeing all of these women on social media posting boxes of all the “free” stuff they got with their Rewards Points (the “cash back” that’s actually store credit from Monthly Orders)… but it wasn’t free stuff at all! They had bought in to the idea of spending $50 or more every month in order to get rewards. Brilliant on the part of Young Living – convincing all of these people to spend more than they otherwise would in order to get points that will, when spent, not count toward their $50 minimum order for future Monthly Orders.
I guess in a way, that’s no different than most rewards programs, but it gets more insidious. You automatically get 10 Rewards Points for initially signing up (buying your PSK), but you cannot use those 10 Rewards Points for 2 months! So you have these 10 Rewards Points burning a proverbial hole in your pocket for 2 months! And for your first 3 months of Monthly Orders, you get 10% Rewards Points back. But at 4 months, you jump up to getting 20% of your spending back in Rewards Points! It is cleverly timed so that you hang on the first two months to get to use your initial Rewards Points, and then when you might consider cancelling your Monthly Order, Young Living again incentivizes more spending by upping your % of Rewards Points back.
Yet another reason to continue with the Monthly Order is that if you break your streak of Monthly Orders, you go back to month 1 as far as the % of Rewards Points you get back. Otherwise, your % back keeps building the more months in a row you place a Monthly Order.
Apparently there are new promotions every month (buy 1 Longevity oil blend, get 1 Eucalyptus Radiata for free!), but I bought in a few weeks before Black Friday, so I really got an earful on promotions right from the start! What I found during Black Friday in particular was that Young Living cleverly released limited edition or extremely rare oil blends but, rather than being able to buy them on their own, you often had to buy a gift bundle. For example, Sacred Angel (limited edition oil blend) could not be bought on its own. To get that rare oil blend, you had to buy the Sweet Dreams Diffuser Bundle, which came with the more common – but very expensive – Sacred Mountain oil blend and a lantern diffuser (what Young Living rep needs another diffuser?!). So for $110, you could get Sacred Angel, but you were forced into buying two other items you may not want or need.
Still further, none of the Black Friday deals could be ordered using Monthly Orders. You could only get the deals with a One-time Order, thus preventing you from either being able to accumulate any Rewards Points OR to keep up your Monthly Order streak. So it was just one more ploy to get customers to spend not only the $50 minimum for their recurring monthly order but also spent a significant amount on so-called Black Friday “deals”.
Another brilliant but underhanded marketing ploy by Young Living is listing the Retail versus Wholesale pricing on every item. The above mentioned Sweet Dreams Diffuser Bundle is listed at $144 Retail but “only” $110 Wholesale. This gives the illusion of a great deal, but who buys Young Living essential oils Retail?! Most people buying products are ambassadors themselves, and many products cannot even be purchased without a Young Living membership, which is included with the Premium Starter Kit and comes with Wholesale pricing.
There’s more I want to say about the insights I’ve gained on how Young Living feeds down their marketing ploys to (often) unknowing ambassadors, but here’s a high-level summary:
+Ambassadors are rewarded for getting more people on their “downline” (enrolling them in the pyramid under themselves).
+Almost every ambassador invests personal money into either people on their team or those they are trying to attract (Young Living has convinced every ambassador to personally pay $25 as a “reward” to anyone who enrolls in the company by buying their starter kit — Why doesn’t Young Living just discount the starter kit by $25?!?! Because they have convinced the ambassadors to all pay that money out of pocket).
+Almost all ambassadors have genuinely bought in and believe in the products they are selling.
+Most ambassadors seem to have no idea how much money they are personally spending on trying to enroll more people, keep up with their monthly orders to accumulate more rewards points, capitalize on all of the monthly promotions, and generally sink tons of money into a company that exploits them at seriously every. single. marketing. opportunity.
I have no problem with essential oils in general. I’ve actually found that fennel helped me with my milk production, and lemon oil works way better than soap and water to get rid of sticky residue (helpful for a toddler mom)! I’m still personally experimenting with other essential oils, giving the products themselves the benefit of the doubt and letting the results determine whether I continue using oils or not. But as far as Young Living as an overall company is concerned, I think there may be a reason their hottest product line is called Thieves.