Oliver Payne

Behavioural insight & comms consultant

Bring back the Snake Oil salesman

By admin • Feb 16th, 2009 • Category: Twitter updates

As the tightening tap of big media dollars leave some big media channels as dry as Ghandi’s flip-flop one wonders whether the one-way message will ever regain it’s place at the top table of marketing.


It’s common to think of near-history as representative of history as a whole. And I wonder whether we’re making that mistake in advertising. From the rise of advertising soap powder during daily operas (origin of ’soap opera’), to ‘Mash Get Smash’ et al in the 70’s/80’s, to the recent big money Cadbury’s bumpers around Coronation St gives us a cannon of work that supports a big TV tradition. And it’s all one-way messaging. So that’s the only way to sell, right?

Wrong. The engine of commerce has been (astonishingly) successful since … Roman times? The Aztecs?

Even earlier if you claim flea-checking as a ‘trade’, with a cost and a benefit to a market delivered by a supplier. There’s no evidence of homo erectus making billboards in the forest - ‘New from Dave (the one by the tree) - The Flea-away service: Guaranteed to leave you flea free.’.

Didn’t happen.

Couldn’t either. I use it to make a point about interactive selling - like the snake oil dude who’d round up the locals and sell his wares one town at a time. I use it to make a point about interaction with the vendor - and the interaction between potential customers about the vendor. All within earshot of the vendor too: Truth, or lies? Good, or bad? Buy, or walk? We’re a long way from that execution of selling, but we’re not far from that behaviour: t’internet. It’s the *worn-out phrase approaching* global village. No, it really is. And yes I do know that sounds terribly 1998. I was there. It left an aftertaste then too.

“Before mass media, people marketed their wares directly to one another in a social context. Some people were considered honest and trustworthy, and some people were considered shills and charlatans. Others were revealed to be criminals and con men.”
Copyblogger, Blog Money: The Income Outlook for 2009

While Snake Oil salesmen have a technique more suited to digital marketing than big ads, luckily, faulty ‘Snake Oil’ products rarely exist unexposed for long online. There’s so many opportunities for groups to connect that they form and break with astonishing speed: It’s like a live focus group. And they often make very clear and well published judgements - remember the D-Lock failure?

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admin is a digital native who's been taking brands and businesses digital since 1995 (only 5 years after Tim Burners-Lee created the first ever web page). Honing his skills in a variety of companies for the last 14 years, including Ogilvy and Saatchi & Saatchi as a Creative Director, Partner and/or Board Member. He also won some awards.
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