A quick look at Trump’s failed new-age pyramid scheme
“At no time in recent history has our economy been in the state that is today. It’s a mess. The economic meltdown, greed, and ineptitude of the financial industry have sabotaged the dreams of millions of people. Americans need a new plan. They need a new dream” – Donald Trump, POTUS
No, that’s not Trump’s election pitch to the American people, but the pitch he gave to participants of The Trump Network, a new-age pyramid scheme that offered “millions of people new hope with an exciting plan to opt-out of the recession” and “develop your own financial independence.”
The Trump Network was born in 2009 when Trump licensed his name to Ideal Health, a multi-level marketing business founded in 1997 by Lou DeCaprio and brothers Scott and Todd Stanwood. Ideal Health invited independent salespeople to do their own marketing to sell a customised vitamin supplement package, which was determined by conducting urine hormone tests using the company’s signature product, the PrivaTest.
In a 2008 review article for Alternative Medicine Review, the test’s inventor, J. Alexander Bralley, claimed that urinary biomarkers “provide insight into diseases possibly caused or complicated by toxin accumulation and detoxification responses.”
But experts questioned the test’s medical value.
“Urine tests do not provide a legitimate basis for recommending that people take dietary supplements,” wrote Quackwatch founder and retired psychiatrist Stephen Barrett in 2003. Barrett later speculated that Ideal Health had acted illegally by falsely claiming that the PrivaTest could “improve” and “support” physical and mental health.
That didn’t stop Trump hawking branded PrivaTests on the now-defunct Trump Network website, where they sold for a whopping $139.95 per box.
Speaking to STAT in 2016, executive president of The Trump Organization Alan Garten said that Trump “was endorsing the idea behind the business” but that his role “did not amount to an endorsement of the products” themselves.
However, in a “personal letter” published on the Trump Network site, Trump appeared to give his stamp of approval.
To promote the company’s “cutting-edge,” “revolutionary” products and multi-level marketing concept, Trump even had planned an all-out publicity tour that was set to be “the biggest media campaign in the history of network marketing,” and “the legacy he leaves with all Americans.”
Trump would be seen “on the likes of Oprah, the Tonight Show, Larry King, the Today show, numerous press releases, online news broadcasts, major business magazines, and every daily newspaper in America – as well as newspaper business sections.”
In reality, the job of promoting the company was largely left to independent marketers via “personal self-replicating” sites and other, more innovative methods.
In one misplaced attempt at viral marketing, a Trump Network recruit issued a press release as a Google Books review under items specifically relating to Trump.
Curiously, the author of the release gave only modest ratings of Trump’s own books. One book, Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, received a meagre two stars.
And the fun doesn’t stop there.
In August 2009, Wikipedia deleted a page that was created for The Trump Network after it fell foul of the site’s abuse guidelines. The page, authored by a user named “Trumpwellness” and signed-off by “Donald J. Trump,” was deleted by admins because it contained “obvious advertising or promotional material.”
Rejected Trump Network Wikipedia entry (source)
Another innovative way marketers sought to enlist new recruits was by speaking to them directly using online forums. Going by some of the responses, this approach might have worked. But as the company fell into decline, pending lawsuits and accompanying PR disasters, it too failed to take.
In 2011, Trump’s licencing deal with Ideal Health expired and was not renewed. The assets were then sold to a “health and wellness” company named Bioceutica, which still sells the now-rebranded Trump Network vitamin packages and urine tests.
Last year it was revealed that between 1999-2004, the Federal Trade Commission received 56 complaints against Ideal Health. Marketing recruits complained that the company “made money off of marketers by misrepresenting what their marketing system can do” and placing “pressure on marketers to purchase all the companies tools in order to succeed.”