According to the FTC, AdvoCare operated an illegal pyramid scheme that pushed distributors to focus on recruiting new distributors rather than retail sales to customers. The compensation structure also incentivized distributors to purchase large quantities of AdvoCare products to participate in the business and to recruit a downline of other participants with the same incentives. The clear directive of this structure was, as one AdvoCare distributor explained during the company’s Success School training, to “recruit business builders who recruit business builders who recruit business builders. . . .”
The FTC alleged that under the AdvoCare compensation plan, participants were charged $59 to become a distributor, making them eligible to receive discounts on products, and to sell products to the public. To earn all possible forms of compensation, however, participants had to become “advisors,” which typically required them to spend between $1,200 and $2,400 purchasing AdvoCare products and accumulate thousands of dollars of product purchase volume each year, according to the complaint. The FTC alleged that the income of AdvoCare advisors was based on their success at recruiting, with the highest rewards going to those who recruited the most advisors and generated the most purchase volume from their downline.
To recruit people, the FTC alleged, AdvoCare and the other defendants told distributors to make exaggerated claims about how much money average people could make—as much as hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year. The FTC alleged that distributors were told to create emotional narratives in which they struggled financially before they joined AdvoCare, but obtained financial success through AdvoCare. Distributors were also allegedly told to instill fears in potential recruits that they would suffer from regrets later if they declined to invest in AdvoCare.
The FTC alleged that the defendants told consumers that they could realize large incomes by promoting AdvoCare and that their earning capacity was limited only by their effort. For example, AdvoCare promoter Diane McDaniel told consumers that “the sky is the limit. I’m the variable. I get to decide what I truly want according to the effort I put forth” and that “there is incredible profit that can be made through infinity.”
In reality, the FTC alleged, AdvoCare did not offer consumers a viable path to financial freedom. In 2016, 72.3 percent of distributors did not earn any compensation from AdvoCare; another 18 percent earned between one cent and $250; and another 6 percent earned between $250 and $1,000. The annual earnings distribution was nearly identical for 2012 through 2015.
In addition to a $150 million judgment and a permanent ban on multi-level marketing, the settlement order with AdvoCare and Connolly requires them to notify all AdvoCare distributors about the FTC’s lawsuit and settlement, and to advise them that:
- they will no longer be able to earn compensation based on purchases of distributors in their downline;
- if they had significant losses pursuing their AdvoCare business, they may get some of their money back from the FTC; and
- if they decide to discontinue their participation in the business opportunity, AdvoCare offers a 100 percent refund on unused products under existing refund policies.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and stipulated final order/injunction was 5-0. The FTC filed the complaint and final order/injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the named defendants are violating or are about to violate the law and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated final injunctions/orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).