Arbonne and the Crackers

LinkedIn, which if you don’t know it is a sort of sensible version of Facebook that you can get away with using at work, is a great place to get into interesting and informative discussions. You can join groups on there relating to particular business areas and as most of the people in the group are in the trade, so to speak, you can get quite a high level of debate going.  People rarely abuse this to plug their own products.

But it does happen sometimes.   For instance, in a group devoted to Cosmetics and Beauty a woman who I will call Debi (because that is her name) started a thread with the rather astonishing premise that the passage of time was not the major cause of aging.  It turned out she had a product to sell that was supposed to make you look 13 years younger.

Another woman called Grace instantly chipped in agreeing with the suggestion that aging was reversible and plugging, in a rather incoherent way, the products of a Swiss company called Arbonne.  She was it turned out, one of their large army of home based self employed sales representatives.  Amongst other things, she said that materials that enhance the skin’s barrier function were a bad idea.  She singled out mineral oil, beeswax and lanolin as examples.

She justified this by saying she had kept some crackers in mineral oil for 5 years and they were still crunchy.  The significance of this wasn’t immediately obvious to me, but she must have been quite pleased with this evidence because she said she used the crackers in demonstrations to clients.

I should probably have moved on there and then, but I was so intrigued by this cracker experiment I couldn’t resist asking what putting a cracker in oil proved.  By the time I got around to posting the thread had already turned into a war zone.  The crackers were just one element and arguments were raging about a whole range of issues raised by the two womens various claims.  It got so bad that some grown ups had arrived in the form of a spokesman for Arbonne and some seriously senior industry scientists.  This, needless to say, just stoked up the row.  But I did eventually get an answer, sort of.

This is what the big cheese from Arbonne said.

“I believe the cracker is to symbolize a porous material. When a cracker is placed in water or soup(!) it ABSORBS the liquid. When placed in mineral oil, it is COATED (providing a barrier) and remains crisp.”

So that cleared that one up.

What I hadn’t realised was that it wasn’t just something that this one Arbonne rep had done, it had at one stage been part of the standard issue pack provided for promoting their products.  I have no idea what impression it made on potential punters, but they have dropped the idea now so I imagine it mystified them as much as it did me.

I suppose that the idea was to use the cracker as a model.   Models are used a lot in science to aid understanding.  But choosing the right model can be tricky.  Arbonne aren’t the only people to come to renounce their choice of model.  Years ago a well known dermatologist, Albert Kligman developed the rabbit ear model.   Cosmetic products and raw materials were applied to the skin on the backs of rabbits ears which was supposed to indicate how human skin would react, in particular with respect to how likely it was to cause comedons (or blackheads if you prefer plain english).  If you ever read that a product is comedogenic then the chances are it was tested on rabbits ears.  It was a rubbish model and nobody who knew anything about it took the slightest notice of the data.  Even the proposer later wrote a paper criticising his own work, an admirable willingness to put honesty above ego.

So how does Arbonne’s model stand up?   Can a cracker match the behaviour of the skin?  The barrier properties of the skin arise from the structure of the stratum corneum, which comprises corneocytes composed of highly cross-linked impermeable protein embedded in a lamellar lipid matrix.  A cracker is a savoury biscuit.

I don’t think I need to say any more.  But it drew my attention to the Arbonne range, so I suppose it has had some marketing value.

As a formulator what do I make of the Arbonne range?   I was at a charity pamper evening a couple of years ago and had a chance to look at them in some detail.  A rep had taken a stand and had samples of a lot of the range out to look at.  The products are fine. The person or team who have come up with them have done a good job.  I cannot say there is anything particularly special about them.  They are certainly no more natural than most brands.  But Grace’s post had said that they avoid mineral oil because it blocks the skin.   Arbonne do avoid mineral oil in their formulations.  Is this their unique selling point, and does it justify the high price tag?

Mineral oil is fairly cheap, but the alternatives aren’t very expensive either.   There is no need to pay a premium for avoiding mineral oil.   And a great many products on the market don’t use mineral oil.  If you don’t want to use mineral oil for whatever reason, Arbonne’s products are one option.  But there are plenty of others.

I assume the reason the products are expensive is the high cost of running the direct selling operation rather than the intrinsic cost of the goods.  A lot of people don’t like direct selling, and many of us have had a bad experience with overenthusiastic direct sellers (often water softeners in my experience).

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Personal service can be worth paying for.  And having access to a well trained expert to guide your purchases might well be worthwhile, even if this is paid for by high cost products.  Avon ladies generally do a good job, and here in the UK Ann Summers reps have a good reputation for selling products that are not always easy to purchase without assistance.

But I remain to be convinced that Arbonne have got their sales approach right yet.  I watched in amazement as the Arbonne sales representative talked utter gibberish at the pamper evening I mentioned earlier.  It would have been obvious to anyone that she had not a clue about her products.  She also heavily criticised other products and indulged in plenty of fear based marketing about the supposed risks of products that were no different to the ones she was selling.  She made not one sale.  And that was without deploying ancient biscuits soaked in oil.

Substantial numbers of consumers are now, thanks to the web, remarkably well informed.  I am afraid sales pitches that make no sense simply don’t cut it.  I should say I am basing my opinion of Arbonne on one live experience and this one LinkedIn thread.  These might not be representative.  Let’s hope not.  I think a company like Arbonne would do best if it trained it sales people to identify their customers needs and give them real solutions to their problems.

Offer people genuine value and they will come back.   Knock the opposition, make unbelievable claims and talk up non-existent health issues and your ex-customers will run a mile next time they see you.

9 thoughts on “Arbonne and the Crackers

  1. Rowena

    Hey! Kudos for this article! I love it!
    I used to work in cosmetics, marketing, also now into blogging and appreciate your scientific point of view- more power!

  2. Amarya

    Great article and very informative. Crackers in oil? that is a new way of selling a product. I have found that aggressive selling methods do more harm than good. If a product can not sell itself then you have a problem.

  3. Colin Post author

    Aggressive sales pitches are usually counterproductive. But when you combine aggressiveness with gormlessness you can reach levels of irritation only normally achievable by rubbing polystyrene on glass.

  4. Barbara

    I was recently at someone’s house where she was selling Arbonne. She did the cracker in mineral oil trick, but I never asked her what she thought it meant. She was pretty specific that mineral oil was the bad boy.

    I tried it at home with 2 crackers – one in mineral oil and one in olive oil. Exact same result with both. My conclusion – it is meaningless.

  5. Colin Post author

    Thanks Barbara, the official line from Arbonne is that they don’t use the crackers in oil illustration any more so it is good to get confirmation that it is still being used on the ground.

  6. Maria

    Thanks for the information. This is a good article that is worth reading before getting yourself into some business that may potentially financially harm you. I was at an arbonne meeting and am not sure, that’s why I have been reading reviews in many sites. I have to admit that there are lots of bad reviews not only about the business idea, but also about the representatives’ lack of knowledge and even the products!
    I started to use the arbonne products a couple of nights ago, they seem fine. But I was not told the price. I normally use a £25, very simple face cream made with Rosa de mosqueta oil at night, a type of rose found in South America, a day cream with a factor, 90 and clean my face with a NUDE oil I find in Wholefoods and which is fantastic and I am really happy with them. I don’t think the Arbonne products have dramatically changed my skin to look any younger. The face wash irritates my eyes and I don’t like that. I have no time to be putting one cream for the eye, another for the lips, another for the neck… I will certainly not change what I’m using if the arbonne cost more.
    But I am worried about my friend who took me there though. She must have paid for these products I’m using. I firmly believe that you don’t need to spend lots of money on cosmetics to look good. Exercise and a good diet (sugarfree as possible) is the key to youth, plus a good soft cleanser that won’t irritate your skin and a day cream with solar protection not less than 30uvf, avoid the sun! tans are not in! (vichy is one) and a night moisturizer from the health shop that don’t cost you an arm and a leg. It may take you a while to find these products that would suit your skin, that’s all you need. I’m 49 years old and told and think I look younger than my age. I am a mother of two and certainly get embarrassed when a much younger man thinks I at least 15 or even 20 years younger… But it must also be the Bikram yoga and the at least if not more hour on my bike I do everyday as I don’t have a car and avoid public transport. Just be careful. If you dont have the drive of a salesperson… don’t sign in.

  7. Kayli Anne

    Haha! I was just at an Arbonne party at my Aunt’s three nights ago and one of the ladies definitely mentioned the cracker trick. I was a little suspicious so I have been doing some research on mineral oils and lanoline; glad I won’t be spending an arm and a leg on lotion now, thanks!

  8. Jodie

    Overpriced garbage. That’s my opinion of Arbonne. I was given a fancy bottle of some “day cream” to use by a friend who was selling the crap and well, I ended up using it as foot cream. The cream clogged my pores and broke me out like crazy. Arbonne is nothing more then mediocre at best cream and anyone who is nuts enough to pay a hundred bucks for what really is a 10 dollar bottle of cream has more money then brains in my opinion.

  9. Lorraine

    I have sat here laughing throughout your blog post – I’ve never used any Arbonne products nor met any representatives so I’ve never seen the cracker trick but I feel like I missed out now!

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