Reebok’s Toning Shoes Running Low on Credibility
By LASIS Staff
A shoe that firms your leg muscles just by wearing them. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well it is, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which filed a complaint against Reebok for falsely advertising its toning footwear, EasyTone Walking Shoes and RunTone Running Shoes. According to the New York Times, the FTC challenged Reebok to show scientific proof that consumers who wear these shoes see an increase in muscle strength of up to 28 percent, a claim at the crux of Reebok’s television ads.
Reebok and the FTC came to an agreement the very next day, with Reebok promising to allocate $25 million dollars toward customer refunds to avoid trial. The company also agreed to stop representing that the shoes are effective in strengthening muscles or that wearing the shoe will result in a quantified percentage of muscle toning. That is, until there is scientific evidence to support these assertions.
Maybe it was the numbers or maybe it was the sculpted legs in Reebok’s ads; either way, I fell for it. I bought a pair of EasyTone shoes for my mother for her birthday and according to the Times article, I was in good company; Last year, Reebok sold more than five million pairs of toning sneakers in the U.S. Companies like Skechers, MBT and FitFlops sell similar products, but the FTC has not said whether it is investigating other companies’ ads. So why did the FTC investigate Reebok? What about these other companies who have advertised identical products? LASIS will take a closer look.
The FTC is an independent administrative agency charged with protecting American consumers. In doing so, the FTC found that Reebok had violated two provisions of the Federal Trade Commission Act, both involving the truthfulness of Reebok’s ads.
According to a 2000 U.S. Court of Appeals case, the FTC looks to three factors to determine if an ad is deceptive. First, it asks if a claim was made, second, if the claim was likely to mislead a reasonable consumer, and third, whether the claim was material.
Reebok’s ads claimed that these particular shoes would strengthen certain muscle groups by a certain percentage, but didn’t provide any indication of where these numbers came from. Therefore, it seems likely that the first two factors laid out in the 2000 case were met: there was indeed a claim and it had the potential to mislead consumers, luring them into buying the high-tech footwear.
The appeal of the shoes is that they purportedly do the heavy lifting for you. If a buyer did not want the result of a firmer derrière or shapely legs, she would more than likely buy a pair of regular old sneakers, as the “toning” shoes are actually difficult to walk in. This speaks to the third element of a false advertising claim, whether the claim was material. A claim is considered material if it involves information that is important to consumers. The claims made by Reebok aren’t just material, they’re probably the only reason anyone would buy the sneakers. (I would know!)
The critical difference between Reebok’s ads and other companies’ ads seems to be the unsupported statistics. Take Skechers, for example. While Skechers has had its own trouble with ads for its toning products, the company was able to provide the FTC with the information it needed. The same cannot be said for Reebok.
As the Times article points out, Reebok did not agree with the FTC’s findings. But the settlement seems like a fair trade. Reebok refunds customers who probably purchased the shoes to achieve the results promised in the ads. In addition, Reebok pulls its ads, at least until the company can back up the claims. And it might not be all make believe. My mom felt sore when she first started wearing the EasyTones, so something must be working. And while she is filing for a refund, she hasn’t completely given up on the fancy footwear just yet!