Reebok’s Ready for a New Brand Story

As part of its ongoing effort to undercut overhyped advertising claims, the Federal Trade Commission announced Wednesday, Sept. 28, that Reebok has agreed to a $25 million settlement charge for deceptively advertising “toning shoes,” which the shoe company claimed would provide extra tone and strength to leg and buttock muscles.

“The FTC wants national advertisers to understand that they must exercise some responsibility and ensure that their claims for fitness gear are supported by sound science,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in an official statement Wednesday. 

According to the FTC, Reebok made unsupported claims in advertisements that walking in its EasyTone shoes and running in its RunTone running shoes strengthen and tone key leg and buttock muscles more than regular shoes. The FTC’s complaint also alleges that Reebok falsely claimed that walking in EasyTone footwear had been proven to lead to 28% more strength and tone in the buttock muscles, 11% more strength and tone in the hamstring muscles and 11% more strength and tone in the calf muscles than regular walking shoes.

Reebok was quick to respond to the FTC's announcement, posting an official statement on its Web site Wednesday. "In order to avoid a protracted legal battle, Reebok has chosen to settle with the FTC. Settling does not mean we agreed with the FTC’s allegations; we do not," said Reebok global PR rep Dan Sarro in the statement. "We fully stand behind our EasyTone technology. We have received overwhelmingly enthusiastic feedback from thousands of EasyTone customers, and we remain committed to the continued development of our EasyTone line of products." 

A Q&A was posted on the Reebok site regarding the FTC settlement, where the company says that it currently has two separate studies under way to test its EasyTone footwear and apparel, and that the company does not have to stop selling products in the toning category. "We have agreed to make changes to our advertising claims, but otherwise will continue with business as usual," said Reebok. Reebok and its retailers will remove all marketing materials that refer to muscle toning, muscle strengthening, muscle activation, quantified percentage claims and improvements in posture, but will continue to support EasyTone footwear and apparel with new advertising and marketing materials. 

Should the company remain so committed to a product that has already been smeared by the FTC in the eyes of consumers? In the age of social media, the discredited claims spread worldwide within hours, and no advertising materials short of a new proven study which blows the FTC's complaint out of the water will be deemed credible by potential customers.

The damage has already been done to Reebok's corporate reputation, and it may be setting itself up for subsequent bad press cycles by continuing to market and push its sullied product. In light of the company's decision to "avoid a protracted legal battle" while continuing to produce and market the product in question, it may only be able to restore its credibility through customer outreach, story mining and storytelling—a job fit for, who else, Reebok's PR experts.  


  • Ashley

    I purchased a pair of Reebok EasyTone sneakers last summer when I was bartending and waitressing. I can attest to after a month of using them I noticed a firmer behind. I would definitely appreciate an actual study that “proves” Reebok’s advertising claims, mainly because I feel like I spent $100 on sneakers because they told me I would have a certain outcome. Mine are completely worn out at this point and I was thinking about buying another pair. While I may buy another pair of toning sneakers, it might not be Reebok. I will likely buy a pair from a company that has proven results. Seems like money better spent.

  • Dave Fogelson

    The time has long since passed for Reebok’s “PR experts” to have any significant influence on this issue. At the outset, PR counsel should have cautioned brand marketers against making less than credible product benefit claims based on the scant product testing research conducted. Exacerbated by provocative advertising featuring models that undoubtedly spent years becoming toned and fit, this is a classic example of a company (way) over-promising only to succeed in grossly under-delivering.
    Having worked on the retail side of the athletic footwear industry the past two years, I advised consumers(few, if any, of whom resembled the models in the Reebok ads) interested in toning shoes (whether Reebok, Skechers or New Balance) they’d get more and better use out of a conventional running or walking shoe. I knew full well their expectations were exaggerated. I didn’t want them to be disappointed about their purchase. Most listened to me.
    The pity of it is Reebok’s DMX cushioning system (positioned on the outsoles of the toning shoes to create the balance ball effect), is a viable technology when incorporated into the midsoles of running and walking shoes. The customers I assisted who purchased Reebok’s conventional DMX walking shoe were very satisfied.
    As a former PR person (I was the director of Reebok Brand PR from 1992-99) I fully appreciate the importance of generating positive talk-value in the marketplace. By toning down its rhetoric surrounding the toning shoes, Reebok may have sacrificed some of the initial, short-term marketplace buzz that enveloped the brand but been better positioned in the long-term to protect the brand’s reputation.
    Reebok’s missteps aside, consumers, too, have to share some of the blame for buying into the hype (at $100 a pair). There are no short-cuts in a box to becoming fit. Using the right footwear is important, but it takes discipline and hard work. Consumers now have an opportunity to get all or some of their money back. Alas, Reebok stands to lose more than $25 million. For this, the PR people must share the responsibility.

  • ksniff

    You said your pair of Reeboks did as advertised so I don’t understand why you wouldn’t buy another pair? Is it because you feel duped into buying them in the first place because they didn’t do any scientific testing on their claims? If I was Reebok, I’d want you in my next ad telling everyone they do in fact work.