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.