It’s usually Skechers promising to help people shape up. But this time, the shoe’s on the other foot. In a $40 million settlement announced by the FTC — part of a broader agreement that also resolves charges by state AGs — the agency is telling Skechers to shape up its claims for Shape-ups and other Skechers shoes.
According to the FTC, through ads featuring celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Brooke Burke, Skechers made numerous false and deceptive claims about the weight loss and muscle strengthening benefits people would get from the company’s toning shoes, compared to regular fitness footwear. One campaign featured Kardashian “breaking up” with her trainer, thanks to the benefits of wearing Skechers. Actress Burke claimed, “The newest move in fitness is tying your shoelaces. Because once my Skechers Shape-ups are on snug and comfy, I’m toning my muscles, strengthening my core, burning calories. Why? Because Shape-ups really work. No matter what I do, or what they do [camera pans to children]. Skechers Shape-ups. Step into your new body.”
The FTC also challenged what it said was a deceptive endorsement by California chiropractor, Dr. Steven Gautreau. Ads for Shape-ups featured a glowing endorsement by Dr. Gautreau without disclosing that he’s married to a marketing executive at Skechers and that Skechers paid him to conduct the study.
Regardless of what you sell, if your company makes objective product claims, you’ll want to find out more about the case. The complaint offers a detailed evaluation of where the FTC says Skechers went wrong. According to the complaint, Skechers’ ads said that the company had a clinical study to back up certain weight loss and fat reduction benefits — but that claim was false due to what the FTC alleges were serious flaws in how the research was done. One study didn’t use a control. Another included data that was altered and incomplete.
According to the complaint, some participants wearing Shape-ups actually gained weight or increased their body fat percentage, but were falsely reported as having lost weight or reduced body fat. Furthermore, two subjects who were in the control group and lost weight had their data falsely attributed to the Shape-ups group. What’s more, the FTC says data was missing or not collected for some of the study’s participants. The complaint notes that among the people in the study were the wives of two of the study’s co-authors, the parents of a co-author, employees of Dr. Gautreau, and other people personally associated with him.
The FTC also alleges that the company — through ad claims and through the name “Shape-ups” — conveyed to consumers that walking in the shoes would result in more weight loss and body fat reduction than standard fitness shoes. According to the complaint, that claim was unsubstantiated. The FTC also charged that Skechers didn’t have sound science to back up similar claims the company made for its Resistance Runners, Shape-ups Toners, and Tone-ups.
If you’ve been following the FTC’s long-standing concern about deceptive endorsements, the complaint count related to Dr. Gautreau’s endorsement should be of particular interest. According to the FTC, Skechers represented that Dr. Gautreau endorsed Shape-ups based upon his “independent, objective study of the product.” But the complaint alleged that Skechers failed to disclose — or failed to adequately disclose — that the company had paid him to conduct the study and that he’s married to a Skechers marketing executive. In light of the representations made, the FTC says consumers would have found that information material. Thus, the FTC alleges that Skechers’ failure to disclose those facts was a deceptive practice, in violation of Section 5.
In addition to complying with tough injunctive provisions for future Skechers ad claims, the company will turn over $40 million for a refund program for people who bought the shoes. Visit ftc.gov/skechers for more information.