Can a particular brand of sports shoe offer "better legs and a better butt with every step"? That's what Reebok claimed in ads for its EasyTone and RunTone shoes in 2009 and 2010. As one commercial put it, using Reebok's EasyTone shoes would provide "11% more toning in your thighs and calves 28% more toning in your butt."
This morning, the FTC announced that Reebok had agreed to pay $25 million to settle claims that it lacked adequate evidence for making such specific claims. The money will provide refunds to customers who purchased the shoes from retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Famous Footwear, Lady Footlocker, and Nordstrom. (For information, go to www.ftc.gov/reebok.)
Although FTC officials said they were unsure how many consumers had bought the shoes, primarily marketed to women, they said toning shoes are a big business. A complaint made public along with the settlement said U.S. toning-shoes sales rose from about $17 million in 2008 to $145 million in 2009 and to nearly $1 billion in in 2010.
In one commercial, according to the FTC, a woman's partially covered breasts are “speaking” to one another:
Breast 1: Hey, did ya see? Nobody’s staring at us anymore.
Breast 2: Hmm, aren’t we still hot?
Breast 1: Totally! You know what? It’s all because of that stupid butt down there.
Breast 2: Yeah, stupid butt. Gets all the attention now.
Breast 1: She’s so tight now. So round. So pretty.
Breast 2: And so stupid.
Make your boobs jealous. With the shoe proven to tone your butt up to 28% more and your hamstrings and calves up to 11% more than regular sneakers. Reebok EasyTone. With balance ball inspired technology. Better legs and a better butt with every step.
The FTC says toning shoes try to turn instability - normally a negative with footwear - into a benefit. "Unlike traditional athletic shoes, which are designed to provide the wearer with support, toning shoes are designed to create slight instability. Companies offering toning shoes generally contend that the instability the shoe causes will force muscles to work harder to stabilize, resulting in benefits such as muscle toning, shaping, and strengthening."
David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the challenge to Reebok should remind advertisers that "marketing campaigns, no matter how funny or sexy," need to be backed up by evidence if they make specific claims.
It's also a reminder of what should be obvious: As Vladeck put it, "there are no shortcuts to a fit and healthy body."