Guest Opinion: LA Galaxy sponsor Herbalife can’t hide behind marketing

Controversy over LA Galaxy sponsor Herbalife has become a recurring theme, but has reached new heights in recent weeks with government agencies seemingly stumbling over each other to investigate the company’s questionable business practices.

The below op-ed piece on the issue was written by retired local public school teacher John Fernandez, a member of the Full Rights for Immigration Coalition and a member of a group that runs a Tumblr blog called StopHerbalLIES:

fernandezmugNo slick marketing can change the score on the board.

 That’s a lesson that Herbalife is going to learn as it tries to hide its predatory business practices behind its sponsorship of the LA Galaxy. It’s not uncommon in marketing for a corporation to try and attach itself to a cause that is more popular than itself.  But the consumer should still be careful when the corporation buying the marketing follows a set of values very different from the product they are endorsing.
  
No amount of cosmetic marketing can cover the fact that Herbalife is a $4.8 billion company, in large part due to the Latino community, which accounts for more than 60 percent of distributors. Yet more than 80 percent of those distributors make nothing and less than 4 percent make more than a thousand a year.
 
This is a rip-off for Latinos. Slick marketing can always be exposed as a fraud if the company doing the sponsorship doesn’t follow the values of the product it’s endorsing. 
Remember the outcry during the Oscar Awards?  Ellen DeGeneres used a Samsung phone during the show.  After all, Samsung was sponsoring the awards.  But backstage, she was seen using her own personal iPhone. People felt they had been fooled by a marketing gimmick.
 
Unfortunately for Herbalife, no one is going to be fooled by its gimmicks.  Latinos know the score and they know that Herbalife isn’t playing by the rules.
 
This company essentially offers a predatory sales program that targets disadvantaged groups, including Latinos.  Yet when the new movie on the life of Cesar Chavez was released recently, guess who sponsored some of the early screenings?  Herbalife.  No one was fooled then and no one will be fooled by the sponsorship of the Galaxy. This isn’t about Herbalife embracing the Latino community; this is about Herbalife taking advantage of the Latino community.  Even the Federal Trade Commission has its doubts, recently launching an investigation into Herbalife’s operations, a move followed by an FBI probe, as well. 
 
The company aggressively targets lower-income Latinos with little to no business experience, including undocumented workers, who are in desperate need of a paycheck to support their families. With false get-rich-claims, they are luring these trusting, unsuspecting individuals into what we believe is an illegal pyramid scheme. Herbalife’s business model incentivizes recruitment rather than selling products, leaving those at the bottom with no recruits – and no income.
 
As we kick off the 2014 MLS soccer season, I take joy in the fact that the sport uniquely unites us. Soccer itself teaches teamwork, discipline and accountability.  Ironically, these values could not be more different from the values of Herbalife.  So while Herbalife helps bring soccer to our communities, it is simultaneously bringing us a predatory business model that is economically weighing us down.
 
It’s time for companies like Herbalife to quit saying they support Latinos with their words while they work to undermine Latinos with their actions.  If Herbalife really wants to endorse the Latino community, it should stop its predatory business practices immediately.  Now that would be a winning score for everyone. 
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