Betting on Zero (2017 Documentary)

Betting on Zero is a 2017 documentary currently available on Netflix. It discusses Herbalife’s business practices, arguing that they way that they do business is harmful to the most vulnerable groups of people.

Betting on Zero is a film that attempts to dig beneath the veneer that Herbalife and other multilevel marketing companies. For anybody that is not aware, a multilevel marketing company is one in which salespeople are not paid a salary but a commission on the products that they sell. Additionally, consultants can earn additional commission based on the people that they recruit into the company. Ultimately, recruiting people is more profitable than selling products to customers.

It’s been argued that multilevel marketing companies such as Herbalife, DoTerra, Lula Roe, and similar companies are actually pyramid schemes. I’m not here to argue whether they are or not. I encourage readers to do their own research and make their own decision. Here is a collection of multilevel marketing companies’ income disclosure statements. It’s not exactly an unbiased source but it’s a place to start looking at documents.

If I had one thing to criticize Betting on Zero for, it would be the kind of scattered approach to its subject. It doesn’t seem to be a sign of an incompetent film, but rather a sign of a film that tries to tackle a BIG subject. I think that had Betting on Zero been a miniseries rather than a standalone movie, it would have had the space to tell the story that it wanted to tell. It deals with three distinct topics: Bill Ackman’s efforts in shorting Herbalife’s stock, Herbalife nutrition clubs, and  a class-action lawsuit and settlement based on Herbalife’s targeting the Latin@ community. It’s very difficult to mesh those topics together in a 100 minute film. If there’s one thing that I’m glad has gotten popular, it’s the docu-series. I think that Betting on Zero would be better as a three-part series rather than a stand alone film.

The story of Bill Ackman is what I would consider the weakest story that the film tells. There isn’t enough time to adequately explain stock shorting to a layperson and even after watching the film a couple of times, I find myself struggling to wrap my head around it. I have a somewhat shakey comprehension of the finer details of the stock market as it is, however. However, I don’t think that this weakness detracts from the merit that the rest of the film has.

Betting on Zero touches on several “trends” in Herbalife marketing, and the film focuses on nutrition clubs, where members go to the establishment to consume Herbalife products rather than buying them to make at home. However, these clubs are disturbingly opaque about there association with Herbalife. Betting on Zero focuses on two individuals that used to run Herbalife nutrition clubs, one that lost everything and one that made a good deal of money before he became aware of how exploitative the business practices of his company were.

The strongest part of Betting on Zero follows a class-action lawsuit against Herbalife. It alleges not only that it operates like a pyramid scheme, but they targeted the Latin@ community specifically, largely due to higher rates of poverty in immigrant communities, and a large number of immigrants to the United States are Latin@ or Hispanic.

I only criticize the format because I think that Betting on Zero is a good film that had the potential to be so much better. It’s worth a watch, especially if you are considering joining a multilevel marketing company.

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