MLMs are also criticized for being unable to fulfill their promises for the majority of participants due to basic conflicts with Western cultural norms.[63] There are even claims that the success rate for breaking even or even making money are far worse than other types of businesses:[64] "The vast majority of MLMs are recruiting MLMs, in which participants must recruit aggressively to profit. Based on available data from the companies themselves, the loss rate for recruiting MLMs is approximately 99.9%; i.e., 99.9% of participants lose money after subtracting all expenses, including purchases from the company."[64] (By comparison, skeptic Brian Dunning points out that "only 97.14% of Las Vegas gamblers lose money .... ."[65]) In part, this is because encouraging recruits to further "recruit people to compete with [them]"[13] leads to "market saturation."[24] It has also been claimed "(b)y its very nature, MLM is completely devoid of any scientific foundations."[66]
The main sales pitch of MLM companies to their participants and prospective participants is not the MLM company's products or services. The products/services are largely peripheral to the MLM model. Rather, the true sales pitch and emphasis is on a confidence given to participants of potential financial independence through participation in the MLM, luring with phrases like "the lifestyle you deserve" or "independent distributor."[17] Erik German's memoir My Father's Dream documents the real life failures of German's father as he is lured into "get-rich-quick schemes" such as Amway.[18] The memoir illustrates the multi-level marketing sales principle known as "selling the dream".[19]
Multi-level marketing (simplified Chinese: 传销; traditional Chinese: 傳銷; pinyin: chuán xiāo; lit. 'spread selling') was first introduced to mainland China by American, Taiwanese, and Japanese companies following the Chinese economic reform of 1978. This rise in multi-level marketing's popularity coincided with economic uncertainty and a new shift towards individual consumerism. Multi-level marketing was banned on the mainland by the government in 1998, citing social, economic, and taxation issues.[47] Further regulation "Prohibition of Chuanxiao" (where MLM is a type of Chuanxiao was enacted in 2005, clause 3 of Chapter 2 of the regulation states having downlines is illegal).[12] O'Regan wrote 'With this regulation China makes clear that while Direct Sales is permitted in the mainland, Multi-Level Marketing is not'.[11]
The Federal Trade Commission warns "Not all multilevel marketing plans are legitimate. Some are pyramid schemes. It's best not to get involved in plans where the money you make is based primarily on the number of distributors you recruit and your sales to them, rather than on your sales to people outside the plan who intend to use the products."[23]
Die Organisationsstruktur des Netzwerk-Marketings ähnelt grafisch einer Pyramide mit einer nach oben abnehmenden Anzahl von Netzwerkmitgliedern (vermittelnde Kunden bzw. Geschäftspartner). Hauptunterschiede zu klassischen Unternehmen sind die im Netzwerk-Marketing flachen Hierarchien, da die übergeordneten Netzwerkmitglieder keine formale Weisungsbefugnis besitzen. Allerdings weisen Unternehmen oft weniger Hierarchieebenen auf.