Tuesday 21 January, 2014

Snake Oil Men – How Marketers Invent Problems and Sell You the Solution

Con artists who traveled the country in the 19th and 20th centuries sold ‘snake oil’ to the rubes everywhere they went. This was one of the many fake medicinal remedies these infomercial salesmen of the past sold. Snake oil was based on an actual ointment brought from China by railroad workers, probably something like a lotion that helped with inflammation. Con artists ran with the idea and this earned them the nickname ‘snake oil men.’

The tradition of peddling snake oil is alive and well today. Today, the snake oil is vitamin supplements and all-natural remedies, many supposedly from China or the ancient world.

The way snake oil salesmen work is simple – they invent an ailment and then offer you the cure. Curious and desperate consumers scramble for their credit cards and blow their hard earned cash on junk while eschewing modern medicine, which could actually treat their ailments (or exercise, a better diet, more sleep, etc.). Here are the hallmarks of a snake oil sale.

What Ails You

Snake oil men offer products that treat vague disorders. These are ailments that have no scientific basis and where the true causes could be anything. Common ailments include weight gain, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, memory loss, and so on. Sometimes they jump on a newly discovered but not well understood ailment, like chronic fatigue syndrome.

If you look at the above list, these are things everybody at least feels like they suffer from. Who doesn’t worry about forgetting things or feeling tired a lot? Snake oil men take advantage of this. Sometimes their products claim to treat serious diseases like cancer or heart disease, but they won’t offer any case studies or evidence.

All Natural

It’s wonderful that we have all-natural products we can choose as an alternative to pharmaceuticals, but snake oil men have given all-natural a bad name. They’re just giving the market what it wants, and what it wants is natural alternatives. With the all-natural label, it’s easy for snake oil men to sell products that don’t work. We all know that natural products don’t always produce the desired effect. If the snake oil doesn’t work, the salesman will tell you it’s not the product’s fault.

‘Studies Show…’

Watch out for any type of language that says ‘studies show’ or ‘research shows’ and then offers you no data to back it up. If doctors say this is a great product, show us some of the doctors. If the product being peddled really worked, the marketers behind it would be doing backflips trying to show you all the evidence they can of its efficacy. Look for hard data.

The Big Pharma Conspiracy

A red flag should be any mention of a worldwide conspiracy by the medical cabal. Skip over anything that claims to be the cure doctors don’t want you to know. If there is something, natural or not, that truly provides a cure to a common ailment, doctors definitely want to know about it. Conspiracy claims are used to sell fake products.

The Damage Done

I wrote this article so that you won’t waste your money on snake oil, but using these products could produce a much worse result. Some of these products, even though they’re natural, can cause you physical harm. Natural doesn’t mean safe. A natural product can interact with drugs you’re taking, trigger allergic reactions and cause other problems. It’s best to steer clear of snake oil salesmen and their phony remedies.

Bob Steele

Bob Steele

Bob Steele is an entrepreneur, software developer, marketer, and author living in the Denver metropolitan area. He’s an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hiking, fishing, boating, and just plain having fun. His interests include games, space, technology, physics, cooking (well eating actually), economics, business, internationalism, and team sports. With over thirty years of professional consulting experience, Bob has been exposed to many diverse business models and has gained a sensible approach to life. Bob’s company, WaveCentric is focused on commerce, marketing, and entertainment related products.

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