How To Not Buy The Digital Snake Oil

We've all heard the pitch before: "try this miraculous digital solution that will eliminate all your problems", but how can you know that it's snake oil before you buy it?

Red Flag #1: When it's the easy way to avoid the hard problem.

All too often the promise of Digital Snake Oil is to avoid the longstanding problem rather than to solve it. To be fair, most digital products are promising to solve a problem or offer a solution, but the difference is in the nature of the problem. If your problem lies in external factors (finding an audience, communicating better, etc), the answer can be provided externally. If it is an internal problem however, the solution has to be internal, otherwise you're trying to bypass the problem rather than solve it.

Red Flag #2: When the promises don't match the features.

It's a simple principle: if the promised benefits of the product don't correlate to the features, it's not going to work. Technological innovations (particularly digital ones) can do incredible things, but at no point is it magic. Your first priority when you consider a new product should be to make sure the advantages of switching over are not just tangible, concrete benefits, but have a direct relationship to the new features and processes included.

Red Flag #3: When you don't understand what you're buying.

If the promise seems too good to be true, it will be. When time pressures are applied, and the "fear of missing out" effect is in play, it's easy to question what if the promise comes true. Cryptocurrencies are a great example of this feeling in play; when you look at the history of the price and how much money could have theoretically been made, it's easy to be convinced of the benefits of investing now. But that doesn't correlate to future income, and pyramid schemes have been launched and crash off of evoking that emotion.


Revolutionary innovations can constantly upend the current digital landscapes and digital snake oil will continually reinvent itself, but pragmatism will never go out of style. Following these principles can help you identify the new ways people make wild claims about any kind of digital advertising. Whether it's a crypto currency, influencer marketing, or a juicing machine, you should be able to apply these rules and know the difference.

One of the easiest signals? ROI. If they can offer a clear list of examples that explain when and how they win, it might not be snake oil.

Colin Berry

Written by Colin Berry

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