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Shape up your substantiation or tone down your ads. That’s the message marketers should take from the FTC’s $25 million settlement with Reebok for false and unsubstantiated claims for the company’s EasyTone and RunTone toning shoes.

Fitness freaks and couch potatoes alike have noticed the toning shoe trend. Reebok kicked off its EasyTone walking shoes line in early 2009. RunTone running shoes followed in 2010. Retailing for about $100, the shoes are available at sporting goods and department stores across the country, as well as from Reebok’s online store.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Reebok’s ads were everywhere: newspapers; magazine; internet sites, including reebok.com; and Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The TV ads were particularly eye-catching.

One spot featured a toned woman speaking directly to the camera: “Reebok EasyTone shoes not only look fantastic, they’ll help make your legs and butt look great, too. It’s the shoe proven . . .” As the camera zooms to her backside, she addresses the camera operator directly — “Dude!” — who then shifts the focus back to her face and upper body. She continues, “to work your hamstrings and calves up to 11% harder and tones your butt up to 28% more than regular sneakers. Just by walking.” As the camera again moves to her backside, she clears her throat, says “Excuse me!” in an exasperated manner, and motions for camera to move back up. “I take it you would agree?” she finishes.

In another ad seen on TV and online, a woman’s breasts carry on a conversation with each other about the attention the woman’s butt has been getting. (Yes, you read that right.)

“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.

Voice-over: 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.”

Another ad for EasyTone claimed, “Men will be speechless. Women will be jealous. And no one will know that the reason’s on your feet. Discover up to 28% more of a workout for your butt. And up to 11% more for your hamstrings and calves. Easytone balance ball inspired technology with moving air creates micro-instability toning and strengthening butt and key leg muscles as you walk.”

Ads for RunTone made similar representations: “[T]he muscle-toning shoe you can wear while running, training and working out. Compared to a traditional running shoe, RunTone, a close cousin to our EasyTone shoe, encourages more activation in key leg muscles like the calves and quads . . . . RunTone patented sole technology features 8 pods of moving air that force your muscles to work harder; encourages increased muscle activation, toning, strength and endurance.”

The FTC’s complaint, filed in federal court in the Northern District of Ohio, alleges that through ads like these, Reebok made unsubstantiated claims that walking in EasyTone footwear — and running in RunTone — will tone and strengthen the legs and butt more than a typical shoe. The FTC also charged that lab tests did not show that walking in EasyTone, when compared to walking in regular shoes, will improve muscle tone and strength by 28% in the glutes, 11% in the hamstrings, and 11% in the calves. Thus, the complaint challenges Reebok’s “test prove” claim as false.

Next: The terms of the FTC’s $25 million settlement.

Looking for more in the meantime?

Consumers can apply for a refund at ftc.gov/reebok.
There’s no such thing as a no-sweat shortcut to fitness. Share the FTC’s new brochure, How’s That Work-Out Working Out? Tips on Buying Fitness Gear.

From 12:15 to 12:45 PM Eastern time today, FTC staffers will answer questions about the settlement on Twitter from its primary account @FTCgov. People can participate using #FTCbcp.
 

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