These days, if you’re involved in the world of buying or selling products and services both in-person and online, then there’s a good chance you have come across the term “Snake Oil Salesman”.

Do you know what it means or how to spot it?

Many people might think that a Snake Oil Salesman is someone who tries to sell you something which is bad for you, well, it is, but the term has a much broader meaning than that, especially in the world of online promoting and advertising.

The Idea

Originally, the idea comes from the days of traveling salesman who would go town-to-town with a cart full of goods. Back in those days, Snake Oil was imported from China although it was very confusing if it really had curative properties. A “Snake Oil Salesman” would say that the oil came from a specific breed of snake and contained vitamins and fats for treating some conditions. If true, how did Snake Oil become such a negative term?

Capitalizing on the popularity of the actually useful snake oil, greedy salesmen began marketing products which did not have the same benefits, while claiming that they were still the genuine article. In fact, some of these products being sold didn’t contain any real snake oil at all but were completely fake. After this, the term “Snake Oil Salesman” came to refer to anyone who sold a product or service by misrepresenting the actual benefits or usefulness of what they were selling.

Basically, the term means someone who is a fraud in business.

In today’s world of online commerce, however, the term can apply to even more than that!

Sounds Familiar?

Here are some examples which anyone who has been online might be familiar with:


A product or service is advertised as being “free”, when really it only starts out by being free, and then the buyer has to pay later. Or, instead of paying up-front for the product, the buyer is expected to provide something in return.


A service claims that if you use it, it will help you generate a certain amount of income – when the truth is that very few people will achieve this level of success, and most people will get nothing.

Very Technical

A product uses highly technical and “scientific” sounding language to sound impressive and powerful, when really there are no proven benefits to using that product.

Good Reviews

A product is advertised using the reviews of “real people”, when there is no way for you to know whether they are real users of the products or just hired actors.


A business model which, in order for you to make money, requires you to recruit other people below you and so on.

Although all these examples are different, they are all cases where what is being promised may not be exactly true, and the seller hopes that the buyer will be ignorant enough to give them a chance.

The Lesson

If the seller (C-Suits) is making a promise (the agency) that seems too good to be true, that the “cure is too big of a miracle”, or the service is “too lucrative to make sense”, you may want to consider whether or not you are dealing with a fraud, I mean, “Snake Oil Business (Salesman)”.

Happy Job Hunting!