July 4, 2008

Here Amid the Pyramid Schemes: Quixtar's "OMG GFE" Moment

There's a pitfall inherent in writing novels whose characters get caught up in kooky subcultures. Namely, hopping online to explore the underbelly of a kooky subculture tends to be much easier and more enjoyable than, say, actually writing prose. So the temptation is always to prolong the research phase far beyond what's strictly necessary for the actual piece you're working on.

All of which is by way of saying that in the course of writing and rewriting a single chapter of The End as I Know It, I delved somewhat deeply into the world of Amway and its e-commerce arm, Quixtar (although I didn't actually mention Quixtar, which was launched in 1999, because my chapter took place in 1998; for such historical rigor are fiction writers justly renowned).

Quixtar was pretty explicitly conceived as the non-Amway Amway. In entering the online marketplace, the company spun off a business with a different name because "Amway" was known and reviled, a punchline; you don't toss away near-universal brand recognition unless your brand is irrevocably tainted. An important part of the training undergone by early Quixtar IBOs (Independent Business Owners) was learning how to finesse the answer when a potential customer asked "Is this Amway?" In short, the first rule of Quixtar was: you do not talk about Amway.

Which is why I was intrigued to see this TV spot last month (more here):

So what happened? To me, the impetus for Quixtar's decision to proudly wear the Amway nametag (literally) in 2008 seems as clear as the impetus for Quixtar's creation in 1999: at some point last year, someone in Amway's upper management must have had a GFE moment.

GFE stands for Google Fucking Exists. (Dan Savage coined this unjustly neglected acronym in a memorable column I'll leave it to you to Google.) The new Quixtar campaign is called "Now You Know," but a more accurate name would be "Yeah, You Knew." Nine years ago, it was still possible to get away with hiding behind a different name and logo; sure, it was easy enough back then to go to a search engine and discover that Quixtar was essentially Amway, but plenty of people—specifically, plenty of the type of people who are likely to sign on to MLM schemes—did not have the wherewithal or inclination to do.

In the computer industry, "security through obscurity" means assuming that you can keep your software or hardware's vulnerabilities from being exploited simply by concealing their existence; it's generally held to be an untenable strategy. In Quixtar's case, "brand purity through obscurity" may have worked for a few years, but no longer. Anyone who's "shown the plan" for Quixtar can, and will, discover the Amway connection within seconds of sitting down at a computer, and certainly before signing on the dotted line.

How this new approach of wholeheartedly embracing the Amway name and lineage will affect Quixtar's fortunes remains to be seen. But the existence of Google, and more generally the transparency the Internet affords consumers, left them no choice in the matter.

Posted by Kevin Shay


My favorite Quixtar encounter (I've had a few run-ins with the giant retarded beast) occurred when I ran through a red light in my roommate's car (ahem... I was text messaging and driving...), smashing into an Audi and rendering it un-drivable. The woman whose car I totaled took the opportunity to try and recruit me for Quixtar, offering the thinly-veiled cliche of, "Wanna meet at Starbucks?" No thank you, Miss, unless it's for coffee and a blowjob.

If Amway is as successful as they claim, I have to ask: what is the quality level of the product and how do they sell so much of it?

Post a comment

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2