Essential Oils and Water: doTERRA and Persuasive Messaging
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
This was written for CAS 829: Evaluation Techniques in the Michigan State University Strategic Communications MA program.
Pleasant piano arpeggios open a soothing marketing video. Lush landscapes abound. Cut to an executive type for this company—essential oil retailer doTERRA—who states simply that “having a completely pure essential oil was everything to us” (doTERRA, 2019, 0:14). What follows is a 4:29 video that taints many common persuasion tactics—complete with C-suite executives delivering aspirational sermons intended for an affluent, healthy lifestyle segment with disposable income (more than likely parents or caregivers). The purpose of this paper is to analyze the doTERRA marketing video through the lens of author Jay Heinrich’s “Thank You for Arguing.”
About halfway through his book, Heinrich states that the intent of rhetoric is to sway people utilizing an audience’s beliefs and expectations in a simple—not bombastic—manner (p. 211). This video takes this tactic. The video’s script relies heavily on connotation, and the words like “essential,” “natural,” “safe,” “effective,” “pure,” and “healthy” flow next to baselines like “potency,” “natural path,” “better way,” and “stewards of nature.”
However, to spot a fallacy in persuasive messages is, in part, to acknowledge the “false comparison” (FC) (p. 153). FC presents in this video through the “all-natural fallacy” commonly used by healthy lifestyle companies when positioning products as healthy alternatives (p 153).
Without a company website link to review the ingredients, one must take a leap of faith about this efficacy because the messaging assumes all of the ingredients share the same natural traits (p. 154). Heinrich illustrates the all-natural fallacy through a hyphen: “all natural” means everything about the ingredients—including how they are processed—are natural, but “all-natural” ingredients is a specific modifier only of the ingredients themselves. Between the two, a FC could exist within the bountiful fields of this ambiguity.
Similarly, stating that doTERRA ingredients are all-natural because they are made from all-natural ingredients is a form of tautology, or arriving at a conclusion by repeating the premise in a different order (but often not providing concrete proof) (p. 161). They are natural because they are natural.
Although the video depicts doctors using essential oils during an office visit, it seems to create an “us” (essential oils) versus “them” (traditional medicine) argument. At the 0:58 mark, a mother states that she prefers a “more natural form of healthcare” after having kids—because she was shocked at the “lack of resources” for parents (doTERRA, 2019). She continues by saying that she uses doTERRA because she can “trust in a product that is not only 100% safe, but 100% effective” (doTERRA, 2019, 1:12).]
This persuasion creates a “wrong number of choices”: creating two finite choices (it is either oils or medicines—no peripheral options) and implying that traditional medicine does not promise such reliability and efficacy (p. 152).
As such, this messenger is guilty of “misrepresenting the evidence” through a “false dilemma” (159, 163).
Cultivating the “Right Way”
This video states clearly that doTERRA represents a shift to a new lifestyle and an elevated mindset; thus, their essential oils empower people to make this change (doTERRA, 2019, 2:03). Even physicians, as a talking head states, are becoming more aware of the therapeutic potency of essential oils as “we” move towards the future of modern health care (DoTERRA, 2019, 2:13).
Heinrich states one can sermonize to obtain audience buy-in but he or she must switch to future tense to sell the sizzle (p. 178). In a tell-tale sign of persuasion, this messenger predicts a future where physicians use essential oils in clinical trials—the “right way” to proceed (doTERRA, 2019, 2:15).
doTERRA wants clients to know the company was put on this earth to allow individuals to recognize their value. In addition to producing high-quality oils, the company wants to “do good in the world” (doTERRA, 2019, 1:35). doTERRA can connect people together, and this community can come together and help each other (doTERRA, 2019 2:45). Oils are natural to the earth, and doTERRA helps individuals recognize their value. doTERRA lifts people up and blesses them; doTERRA is a light to someone (doTERRA, 2019, 3:02). The video pivots to a crescendo in music and a woman waving a flag for a little patriotic punch. This messaging and imagery may seem like a long bridge to logic—or may conjur images of Adam Neumann’s overly philosophical goal of controversial WeWork to “make the world a better place” (Wondery, 2020). doTERRA puts the “petal” to the metal, using “comparable experience,” or people speaking from their personal experiences with the brand, to establish a right-way approach, which already concludes for the audience that doTERRA is the right lifestyle choice (p. 180, 201).
A Blooming Business Model
A brief lull in the lifestyle mantra comes from references to traditional business models. Various executives refer to mission, vision, a need in the marketplace, and added value. One could argue these common-sense touch points act as a “virtue yardstick” that finds a median between extremes (p. 195). But this measure is lost quickly: doTERRA’s corporate objective is to make everyone a “better human being” (doTERRA, 2019, 3:38).
This is the type of overly sweet marketing piece that gives one a cavity. One can imagine a page in the first chapter of the company guidelines that suggests “speaking with your hands implies sincerity—e.g., when you say, “highest quality,” you must raise your hands. The talking heads in the video include a “fallacy of power”: if they say it, it must be accurate (p. 172). One aspect that stands out is the depicting of health care workers dropping dots of oil on people’s palms—in exotic, rural villages. If the everyday reality of a village includes wooden huts and wooden ladders, then these villagers may benefit from actual medical intervention, rather than the botanical bang-bang of ylang ylang.
Rather than position doTERRA here as “stalwarts of nature,” the video slips into reductio ad absurdum—offering unbelievable, absurd, and one-size-fits-few messaging (p. 155). The power of patchouli seems paltry next to a prescription for penicillin.
Remember the mom who was shocked at the lack of alternatives in health care? She states that every mom wants the best for her kids, and the trust she has in doTERRA is “priceless” (doTERRA, 2019, 1:19). Well, a quick visit to the doTERRA website shows that product prices range from $13.00 to $90 for a 15ml vial and $93 to $153 for a top-tier 5 ML vial (doTERRA, n.d.).
That is not exactly “priceless,” and in this claim, the reason does not lead to the conclusion—a “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy (167). This pricey example represents many disconnects, or “logical short-circuits,” that crop up in this video (p. 191).
In marketing their products, doTERRA infuses a cult-like lifestyle with a product—and that is like mixing essential oil and water.
Brown, D. (2020). WeCrashed: The rise and fall of WeWork. [Audio podcast]. https://wondery.com/shows/we-crashed/
doTERRA Essential Oils. (2019, April 22). Why is doTERRA different? [YouTube Video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsY-xGCZSng
doTERRA. (n.d.). Essential oils. https://store.do-essential-oils.com/collections/doterra-single-essential-oils?page=2&sort_by=price-ascending
Heinrichs, J. (2013). Thank you for arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson can teach us about the art of persuasion. Random House
Image: USA Today