Last night, shirtless pictures of former Senator Scott Brown appeared in my inbox.
He sent them.
In one, he stood sunburned on the beach, his belly protruding over his khaki shorts and his arm around his sarong-wrapped wife, Gail. In another, he stared down at ripped, tanned abs, dressed in nothing but American flag-printed swim trunks and sneakers.
“Olivia ... Thanks for emailing me about your interest in Advocare,” the message began.
Founded in 1993 by Charles E. Ragus, an insurance salesman who had worked for Herbalife, a nutrition company which may or may not be a Ponzi scheme, AdvoCare is a “wellness” brand that “Builds Champions ®” and is “backed by the latest science,” according to its website. Ragus died in 2001, at 58. His obituary doesn’t cite a cause.
AdvoCare products, just like Herbalife, are not available for purchase in traditional stores, which is why they are successful: The goods are given to “independent Distributors,” who then sell them to people they know, and if they recruit other people to hawk the products, they make a commission on their sales. This is technically called “multi-level marketing,” but you may call it a gigantic scam.
I had not, in fact, emailed Brown about my “interest in Advocare.” I had contacted him to request an interview about his diet after he took to Facebook last week to tell the world about it.
On June 25, Brown wrote to his 300,000 fans (?) to “answer a few questions that people have had about my recent weight loss.” He explained that he and Gail realized they had gained weight and they decided to embark on a diet together. Luckily for them, Brown said, their son-in-law “turned me onto a product called Advocare,” which he claimed “guaranteed” a 15-pound weight loss in 24 days.
Brown said he liked that it was “all natural” and only cost him “pretty short money, about $180 in total.”
Brown says the products helped him lose 42 pounds. He included two photos as proof: the same sunburned “before” picture, which appeared in my email, and a different “after” photo: sinewy and tan in tight Spandex workout clothes, a triathlon medal around his neck and his thumb raised.
He encouraged people to talk to him about healthy living at email@example.com.
It was not supposed to end this way for Scott Brown, emailing strangers pictures of his pecs and waxing poetic about diet supplements.
Brown rose to prominence in 2010, when he defied the odds of his long-shot Republican candidacy and won the special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by the death of Teddy Kennedy. Brown went from unknown to instant star, due almost entirely to the fact that, in 1982, he won Cosmopolitan’s “America's Sexiest Man” competition and posed nude in the June issue.
But Brown’s Senate career would not last. In 2012, he was ousted by Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Two years later, he ran for the Senate again—except this time, from New Hampshire. Dogged by charges of carpetbagging, he was narrowly defeated.
And now he's in my inbox and who knows how many other inboxes without a shirt.
“I am here to help you get started,” Brown’s email read. “As you can see from my story and pictures, these products from Advocare really do work.”
Brown went on to say that “as a fitness advocate” (he’s competed in half a dozen triathlons) “I am very skeptical about many products out there,” but his son-in-law, Keith, “used Advocare products through his 8 year professional baseball career” and that was enough to convince him to jeopardize his well-being for vanity.
“If you’re ready to get your health back on track,” Brown said, “allow Keith and me to get you signed up today!”
Brown is offering me the following: “20-40% off products” if I become an AdvoCare distributor; “Nutrition and Fitness guidance to maximize your results”; and “product regimens to help you reach your goals.”
In the comment section of Brown’s Facebook post, he wrote, “FYI I'm not a paid spokesman for them. Neither is Gail,” and in a separate post, two hours after the initial post, he reiterated, “Just as an update which I put out as a comment on the original post, neither Gail nor I are paid spokesrepresentatives for Advocare [sic].” He added, “Some of you have to relax a little bit. Go for a nice bike ride or something. Ha.”
I emailed both the gmail account Brown provided on his Facebook as well as his personal email address to ask if he or his son-in-law are profiting in any way from his advertisements. He didn’t respond.
A request for comment from AdvoCare was similarly ignored.
On AdvoCare’s website, there is a list of over 100 magic ingredients, few of them in English, that will allegedly make you look like the after photo of Scott Brown. They call it a “nutrient glossary,” and it includes things like Vitamin D, Niacin, and something called Beta-phenyl-Gamma-aminobutyric acid “(GABA) (phenibut).” In 2008, swimmer Jessica Hardy was forced to resign from the U.S. Olympic Team after she tested positive for clenbuterol, a performance-enhancing drug. She blamed AdvoCare, saying she was unaware the substance was used in their products.
Reviews of AdvoCare seem to be overwhelmingly negative. On Amazon, where you can purchase the 24 Day Challenge that allegedly worked wonders for Brown for $179, users report itching, swelling, rashes, uncontrollable shaking, headaches, constipation, nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, blurred vision—and subsequent ER visits.
I asked Brown if he had ever experienced any side effects while taking the product, and he responded, “Not at all I’ve been taking the products with Advocare for 10 years and they have treated me great. Thanks.”
10 years? On Facebook and in his email advertisement, Brown said he had been introduced to the products recently and they are what caused his weight loss.
“Keith has been taking them for 10 years through his baseball career,” Brown said when I told him his response didn’t match the rest of his story. “He turned them on to me a few months ago. Thanks.”