Multi-Level Marketing 101: Why Down-Lines are not Necessarily Good for Your Skin
As the economy continues to wax and wane, people are looking for alternative methods to boost their income and to make ends meet. To meet this demand, the multi-level marketing kick has shifted into third gear and beyond. If you don’t believe me, just check out your Facebook page for the pitches, the claims, and the hype. And while we’re on the topic of claims, let’s talk about just that.
As a Denver Plastic Surgeon and nationally recognized speaker and consultant to the medical industry, I am held to certain standards when I present before/after results or any photos claiming to suggest efficacy of a product or a procedure. My peers require that all photos be standardized with respect to lighting, exposure, angle, and so forth and it is understood that no changes have been made to these photos aside from the necessary cropping. And it is only by standardizing my photos that I can truly demonstrate how good (or not) a product or procedure truly is. Why is this important? Because simple manipulation of the exposure of a photograph or a turned angle or the application (or lack thereof) of makeup can have a dramatic impact on just how good that image looks. A few years ago, this was demonstrated in a very nice article to the medical community where the author seemingly showed incredible results following a laser procedure. But the interesting thing about this article was the fact that none of these patients had undergone any procedure, whatsoever. In fact, the article was written to show that how you take a photo can have a dramatic impact on how your audience then interprets that very photo. For example, over-exposing an “after” photo causes lines and wrinkles to magically disappear. The same goes true for brown spots that also seem to vanish when a photo is lightened.
Why am I focusing on this? Because, a new wave of entrepreneurs have hit the pavement and are looking for your business. And, they are hungry, they are dedicated, and they meet on a regular basis to talk about how successful they are, how much more money they can make, and how many people are in their down-line. And when they do so, there is very little to no discussion of the actual product or the science behind it. How do I know this? Because I used to be a part of it.
When I first entered practice, I became interested in a supplement line that was touted to be different (of course) and of higher quality than any other line currently available. Being interested in good health for myself and for my patients, I naturally became involved. And, I was soon selling this product to my patients and developing what is affectionately known as a “down-line”. To the credit of this organization (who will remain unnamed), their products actually were very good. But were they worth the price and the associated hype? I’m not so sure. But they organized regular meetings to discuss just how great these really were and so I decided to get involved. And when I did, I became turned off almost immediately. Every single meeting was entirely focused on a few basic things: money, money and down-line.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy making a good living doing what I do and I applaud those who work hard. But I also believe 100% in every procedure that I perform and every product that I sell. And if I don’t believe in something, I simply cannot stand behind it. And when I see photos posted on social media that are simply not appropriately demonstrating what they purport to demonstrate, I have to call them out. And I do.
This week, I posted one such photo on my Facebook page from a MLM skincare line (not to be named) that reportedly achieved amazing results. And on first glance, there was a significant difference. But when you really looked closely, several things became glaringly obvious:
- Lighting between the two photos was completely different
- The “before” result was shown with no makeup while the “after” result was complete not only with makeup but also hair that was now nicely brushed
- The angle was slightly different
Let’s talk briefly about why these differences are important. First, by changing lighting, you change the appearance of any photograph. Just ask a photographer. By increasing exposure and lightening a picture, you can easily reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and even brown spots. The result? The skin looks more youthful and more even when in reality very little to nothing has actually changed but the lighting.
And what about makeup? If you look at many “before” photos, the person has no makeup, their hair is unruly, and they are often shown at an unflattering angle. Now look at the “after” photo. They suddenly have makeup, their hair is perfect, and their overall appearance is suddenly dramatically different. This is a very common trick and one that is commonly used in marketing. If you don’t believe me, just open any popular fashion magazine and look at the weight loss ads. Amazing how different the clothing is, as well.
Finally, let’s talk about the angle of the shot. A good before/after photo is taken at a standardized angle. By simply adjusting the chin point up or down or turning the head from left to right, you can alter the appearance of anyone’s face. Many people know this very well and use this to their advantage when it comes to taking candid photos. Just look at Facebook. Ever wonder why some of your friends have the same exact expression in every single photo? It’s no accident!
So, I commented on this post and mentioned that it was probably not as standardized as it could be. And the reply? I actually had to chuckle. Replies varied from several people not even commenting on the quality of the photos but instead pointing out that the person posting was really a nice person to one reply that actually said that this person prefers what she calls “amateur” photos because they don’t look, as she put it, “doctored”. I found this interesting since any good photo is actually never “doctored”; it appears professional because the photo before and the photo taken after is simply standardized. The end result? The person posting this had little to say to defend her miracle product and she ultimately de-friended me.
I take great pride in what I do and am always trying to improve my outcomes. If that means someone calling me out for sub-optimal photos, I encourage it. We all learn only if we are given constructive criticism. But when products or procedures are sold in a vacuum and when criticism is not allowed, then buyer beware. You may be friends with the seller, and you may be improving her sales, but you ultimately may be doing very little to nothing to actually help yourself. And isn’t that really the goal?
I look forward to your feedback on this and any other topic. Please email ([email protected]) or call me at BEAUTY by BUFORD. I look forward to hearing from you.
In order for photographs of before and after treatment have bona fide diagnostic and comparative academic value must match both in more than 97% of its features in the photographic histogram, which depends on the equality of before and after photo in terms of brightness, contrast, shadows, projections, color temperature, hue, saturation, detail, noise, distance, position, quantity, quality and direction of light at the time of capture.
The pictures of before and after treatment must be accompanied by a code that register the homogeneity index of the histogram of both pictures. With this, we would avoid manipulation and misrepresentation of photoshop images.
This method of controlling the veracity of photography should be applied to all the papers presented in posters, PPT, magazines, conferences, congress, etc..
would be very interesting that many more doctors get in tune with this idea and as well put it in practice, because a manipulated photograph discredits all written information from any medical presentation, Because sometimes pushes more the commercial interest, than the true therapeutic benefits. To avoid such manipulation should present the photographic histograms of before and after photos, which must match at least 97% in parameters and morphology.
I agree with you. The only issue is that many physicians are not comfortable with even the basics of photography and so this would potentially raise the bar too high for any to uphold.
For now, my suggestion would be to stick with standardization of at least exposure and angle. In addition, I would ask that there be noted how far out the “after” photo is from the actual product or procedure.
Thanks for your insights!
-gregory a. buford, md facs