About two years ago, when my article exposing MonaVie as a scam got popular, a commenter engaged in the conversation about this new great MLM product, ASEA. Some of people who analyzed MonaVie and determined it's expensive fruit juice did some research and found out that ASEA was expensive salt water. I knew that I had to write about ASEA. One 24, Jusuru and ViSalus as scams.
Writing about ASEA is long overdue. So why am I writing about this now? In a span of about 45 minutes last night, I received to independent emails on ASEA. One came in the form of a comment on my Juice Scam website. The other came from my friend J. Money who created Budgets Are Sexy. The comment on MonaVie Scam was simply saying that it was a great product, it will be a multi-billion dollar company, and it's based on strong science. Yawn... the same claims are made by MonaVie, Xango, Xowii, Zrii, LifeVantage Protandim, Nopalea and any other MLM snake oil scam you shake a stick at.
I'd like to focus more on the Budgets Are Sexy email. He told me that he has friends, a nice couple who are fairly well known in the personal finance blogging space, who are selling this ASEA and they wrote a guest article on how to make money with it in his popular "Side Hustle Series." Can you guess where on the Internet I went the next morning? Yep, I wanted to check out the article.
Selling ASEA Molecules
The article, Side Hustle Series: I Sell Molecules!, really puts the hustle in "side hustle." In fact, the comments got to the point where J. Money took the article down. Anticipating that might happen, I grabbed a screenshot so you can follow along with this.
Here are some notes I made in reading that guest article from Asea distributor Cil Burke:
- Typical pitch on how this helped family, neighbor, or friend - All the MLM products that I mentioned above have this in common. Almost never do you see any blind experiments to "forestall any chance of a placebo effect, observer bias, or conscious deception." That quote is from Wikipedia and it's one of the many reasons why health MLM health testimonials are pointless.
- Made of cells not organs - The author wrote: "If you take the time to think about it, we’re made up of cells, not organs." It depends on what level you want to talk about it. You can get down to individual elements if you want. Typically it's more productive to think in terms of organs. You wouldn't want your doctor to attempt open heart surgery on your pancreas.
- It's worked for me - Ahh the staple of the MLM pitch. Here you get "They’ve changed everything for me and my health." followed by claims of blood pressure, aching joints, younger looking skin, and chronic low back pain. This is a standard list of ailments that I've dozens of times for Protandim and Jusuru. I'm reminded of the FTC's warning about miracle cures that "claim to be a 'cure-all' for several diseases and a host of symptoms." Of course these aren't as serious as the ones the FTC warns about it, the parallels are there.
- Marketing the ASEA Supplement as a drug - The mention of ASEA reducing her blood pressure is actually an illegal marketing claim according to the FDA. In fact it could get you a nasty letter like this one. Specifically that mentions the problems with supplements claiming that it can reduce blood pressure. Of particular note is how the warning letter calls out the disease claims in testimonials saying specifically: "Your website also contains disease claims in the form of personal testimonials, including: ..." You'll notice that company cleaned up those testimonials right away.
- The FTC about claims and typical results - The FDA can't be everywhere and monitor blog posts like this one. So it's not likely she'll get a warning letter like the above. However, it is worth noting that the FTC says that as an endorse of the product, she can't make such claims either:
"As the revised Guides make clear, testimonials reporting specific results achieved by using the product or service generally will be interpreted to mean that the endorser’s experience is what others typically can expect to achieve. That leaves advertisers with two choices: 1) Have adequate proof to back up that claim, or 2) 'Clearly and conspicuously disclose the generally expected performance in the depicted circumstances.'"
- About the company - This section of the blog post gives a bunch of bullet points that are more or less irrelevant.
- Claim: "They bought 32 patents in a fire sale." Reality: As a commenter on another blog points out: "I searched for the patents they claimed to own – all of 30 patents or 27, depending on which sales site you read. When I searched patents for the company, Medical Discoveries, Inc, only 7 came up, so I am also not sure where the other claimed 23 (or 20) patents are. Two of these are electrically charging saline (salt water) to clean medical instruments, two are for apparatus, two are for injection into mammals, including humans and one is for injection/IV or ‘other methods’"
Not only are there a bunch of missing patents that can't be tracked down, but many of them are useless to potential customers of ASEA... they don't have an injectable product and it would be a very expensive way to clean medical equipment, not that most people buy ASEA with the intention of cleaning medical equipment. Not only that, but patents themselves are often ridiculous and unproven and there's no analysis on these at all. Final analysis: Anyone bringing up the patents without a defensible position on each and every one as to how it is relevant to the consumer is just trying to trick you with a marketing gimmick.
- Built a company with no debt. They are selling salt water for more than a dollar an ounce. I should hope they didn't go into debt doing this.
- "It’s a brand new (less than three years old) company who single-handedly is going to show us an ethical way to be a word of mouth marketer..." Well we are still waiting for that ethical way, because breaking the FDA and FTC laws was not a good place to start. Also, I've heard about it two years ago and certainly word of mouth marketing hasn't worked for them. Word spread fast... gangnam style fast, right?
- "... and audaciously plans to be the first single product word of mouther with a billion in sales." You can plan to do anything. MonaVie claimed to do a billion with just MonaVie Original and MonaVie Active (it was original with glucosamine mixed in). Yes, it was technically two products, but why does the number of products matter? And it isn't a "word of mouther" with the athletes they've paid as sponsors (but we'll get to that later).
- "product fitness professionals and metabolic scientists alike are almost speechless when describing their own studies and results." I'll get to this later as well, because it ties in with the athletes and the comment that I received on MonaVie Scam last night.
- "This company is enabling people like me to share the word about this amazing bottle of molecules and make real money." No, they are using you. They require that you buy the product (or make it so you have to sell prohibitively too much product to get over that requirement) to be in the business of earning money from the pyramid that you create. It's got the same business model as MonaVie and all the others.
- "Now go use the Big G to check: 'Re-dox signaling molecules + Your Disease Here.'" - Ahh more implied disease claims. This is exactly what Protandim does by getting people to search oxidative stress and a disease. What's left out is the connection that the product actually helps with oxidative stress... or in this case redox signaling. If Protandim or ASEA actually worked for any disease, the company would do the clinical trials and get it approved by the FDA for helping with that disease. If proven to work, they wouldn't be planning to do a billion in sales, they'd be planning to do 10 billion overnight.
No MLM company ever proves their product to work. If you can make a billion on placebo, observer bias, and conscious deception, from any old snake oil, there's no need to clinical trials that would actually disprove your product and kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
- Dismiss this and you'll miss out - The next round of nonsense is: "if you see comments like, 'That’s just salt water, or it’s a scam,' and you dismiss this, then you’re missing out on a once in a lifetime product. Scams don’t have 32 patents. Scams don’t spend big bucks on further research when they’re already solidly profitable." Let's call a spade a spade. The ingredients are water and salt. Did you miss out on the once in a lifetime (always a scummy marketing ploy) products of MonaVie, Protandim, Jusuru, Zrii, etc. Do you have money to buy them all?
I thought the 32 patents were bought in a fire-sale. Seems like a prudent thing for a scammer to do to convince people that it works.
As for spending big bucks on research, they are buying marketing for their distributors to sell the product. MonaVie did the same thing and they were "solidly profitable." They know that distributors can't market salt water without something convincing-sounding backing it up. Hence the solution to spend money on "research." I put "research" in quotes because it is essentially marketing.
- "What Asea Isn't" - The article tries to distance the product from MonaVie, Protandim, ViSalus by saying that it isn't crushed berries, a pill, or a protein shake... yet all three product are better than salt water. Then come the typical MLM disclaimers (with my response):
- It isn't a "get rich quick program." That's true, over 99% of people lose money in MLM).
- "It's not a fill your garage with product you won’t ever need scheme or scam." Nope, like MonaVie and all the others the plan is get to people to consume the overpriced product because the FTC cracked down on inventory loading MLM/pyramid schemes long ago.)
- "It’s not a chemical that strains your body in an effort to burn up calories from your stop at the Cinnabon." Dear lord, I should hope not. That sounds like ephedra that's been banned for some time. Way to compare the product to something bad to make it look better, even if it isn't shown to work (more on that later).
- "It’s not a room with a white board and circles." It's not? Around 5:00 in this YouTube video explaining the compensation plan the circles come out. You could imagine it being done on a white board. In fact here is one describing the binary compensation plan that ASEA uses.
- The money made - Cil Burke says that in 6 weeks she made more than $1000 dollars. That's not the typical case. A nurse with a husband who is a doctor is in a better position to sell this product, because there's a level of trust there.
Cil then goes into saying "I call it sharing a healthier, better life." That's the same pitch MonaVie used for years: You aren't selling product, you are "sharing" it. It's in MonaVie's official website: "Our profound success isn’t just MonaVie’s success, it’s about our independent distributors sharing MonaVie products and solutions for a healthier life while earning financial benefits. This is your chance to share innovative MonaVie products and achieve your own financial well being."
Cil then says, "The potential income from this bio tech product is unlimited because your market is unlimited." Actually the market is very limited. Not many people are interested in paying a dollar an ounce for salt water. Furthermore, every person that's recruited into the opportunity is not a competing sales person. Read more about MLM and the Reality of Saturation. Finally, there's no such thing as truly "unlimited" income in any business. Money is a finite resource internationally.
Cil then says, "My personal goal is to replace my day job income in 6 months to a year. My stretch goal is to do it in 4 months." Since Cil seems to be new to MLM, she probably doesn't realize that it all comes crashing down when people leave the scheme, just like what's MonaVie. It's predictable. The people at the bottom leave because they are paying $125 for their molecules and unable to recruit people because the market for gullible, informed people is saturated. So those people quit. Then the people above them quit because they are the new bottom who are paying money without earning a return. It bubbles on up and then the people at the top start to run to other schemes. In fact, some of the top earners in MonaVie left to go to Zeek Rewards only to watch it get shut down by the SEC a couple of months later for being a Ponzi scheme.
- For More Information - Cil finishes up with the "We are a doctor and nurse team going places because the world deserves to learn how to heal itself, therefore avoiding many high-risk pharmaceuticals." This is the classic Health MLM Mind Game: The FDA Approves Drugs with Side Effects that Kill People combined with the red flag of quackery of "heal itself". How did I know to write those articles months before this article was published? Hint: It's the same thing that all the other MLM scams use.
Okay so maybe I didn't make those notes while I was reading the article. I spent a lot of time to organize them and present them here.
The Science behind ASEA
It turns out that there's really no science behind ASEA. The commenter on MonaVie Scam pointed me to this video on ASEA. Upon watching it, it is quite clear that it is an ASEA informercial.
It turns out that the people in the video were all part of this $194,000 grant sponsored by REOXCYN DISCOVERIES GROUP, INC registered to Verdis L Norton, co-founder of ASEA. Why the deception to hide who is funding the research? I guess it's to make you think it might be independent research.
Before that big grant, ASEA gave grants to Nieman and Shanely directly:
see this, this, and this. Update: They changed the crediting of the grants. this image of the Google cache shows the grants are credited to Nieman, Shanely, and others. Now these are credited to Nieman alone I'm not sure what they are trying cover up with this change of grants that were done months and months ago. In any case, with these new grants, ASEA has given Nieman $701,294 to produce research for ASEA.
Also, Nieman has a guest speaker gig for Asea, which is typically paid for.
Interestingly they only tested 20 people, which is a scientifically insignificant amount. And of course they did a one-week sample size which isn’t significant either. It wasn't published in any peer review journal.
However, you don't have to take my word for all this. As any ASEA distributor will point out, I'm not a doctor. They'll claim that I don't have the credentials to explain that the science is insignificant. With that in mind, I present you to an unbiased, fully qualified doctor, Dr. Harriet Hall who explains why ASEA is another expensive way to buy water.
Of course Harriet Hall not only debunks the product for lack of science, but also the the study done by Nieman that was highlighted in the ASEA infomercial.
Finally, the New York Times cautions against reading anything into these studies. It is a highly important article for all consumers of any health products to read and understand.
The Business of ASEA
For the most part the Business of ASEA is The Business of MLM (or What Gives Freddy Krueger Nightmares). It's a tremendously terrible "opportunity."
ASEA's business model was evaluated by Brett Hansen who has significant industry experience (16 years) and the binary compensation plan and shows that only 5% could possibly earn money because of the internal consumption model. Distributors and others may claim to make outside sales, but they often do not since it is a lot of work to sell product one at a time.
The analysis he gives shows, "The mathematics of their particular compensation structure indicate that 97% plus will never be able to even cover the basic cost of their autoship."
Does ASEA Work?
While the talk of many, many testimonials may seem convincing, such testimonials are typical with any MLM product. This shows that these testimonials are not unique to the ASEA product. Instead, there's a wide variety of psychological phenomena with MLM health products that give people the perception that the product works. For more details see:
No Your MLM Health Product Does Not "Work."
Asea Fined in Italy for "Unfair Business Practices"
A Google Translate of an Italy consumer protection website shows that Asea Italy was fined 150,000 Euros for "for unfair business practices that have affected tens of thousands of consumers in the area of multilevel illicit sales of beverages... The position of Asea Italy and Organ Golden Europe is further aggravated by the fact that the two companies have curative properties attributed to their products that are not adequately demonstrated and certified." (Again, that's the Google Translate version, but I think you get the picture.)
Asea Turns to Black Hat SEO?
I had a good friend ask me if I started buying comments on the web to promote my articles. I've never done any such thing and will never do any such thing. He asked me this because he noticed this on his blog. Someone is leaving spam comments to promote this article.
I did a little research and it seems the same IP address (from Greece) was caught spamming others on the same day 12/13/14.
What I think we are seeing here is that Asea (or some supporter of Asea) is trying to paint a picture of me as a spammer in order to get this article of useful information taking down from search engines. They don't want potential clients and distributors reading this because it exposes their fraud. There's really no other explanation that I can see. I guess it is just another way that Asea is trying to scam people. I'd tell them to stay classy, but it is far past that now.
Summing it up
At this time, I'm going to skip writing a conclusion for this article. I've written enough of them for the similar MLM health products and they are more or less interchangeable. Plus, if you've read this far, the conclusion for any intelligent person is quite clear.
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