The Federal Trade commission announced Wednesday that Reebok has agreed to refund $25 million to people who bought its toning shoes and apparel.
The FTC charged the company with making claims about its EasyTone and RunTone Shoes -- that using them would strengthen and tone leg and behind muscles, that it could not support.
The Wall Street Journal in a story in July 2010 reported that an American Council on Exercise study found that so-called toning shoes did not deliver on their claims of toning and calorie burning. At least one lawsuit was filed against the company related to those really big shoe claims.
David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection made it official with an announcement at a press conference at FTC headquarters in Washington. He reminded advertisers, big and small, that they needed to support their claims.
Vladeck said that since 2009 Reebok had urged consumers to "take the gym with them" via their shoes, but for the millions who paid up to $100 for the shoes, Reebok's claims did not withstand scrutiny. "Consumers expected to get a workout, not to get worked over," he said, adding that Reebok's claims were "wholly unsubstantiated," though Vladeck said the FTC did not put people on treadmills to determine whether the claims were wrong, saying that was not its job. Its job was to determine whether Reebok could substantiate its claims, and concluded they could not.
FTC filed the complaint in a U.S. District Court in Ohio Wednesday, along with the settlement. FTC said Reebok made both deceptive and false claims, including the false claim that there was scientific evidence supporting its claims. The settlement prevents Reebok from claiming muscle strengthening or toning unless it can support its claims with competent and reliable scientific evidence.
The ads at issue began running in 2009 and into 2010. But Vladeck pointed out that Reebok pulled the ads during the investigation, understanding there were serious problems. Vladdck said his settlement was meant to work in tandem with class action suits that have been filed. The $25 million will be put into a fund for Reebok consumers.
In addition, to its credit, said Vladeck, "Reebok has stopped manufacturing boxes with those claims and is instructing retailers to end prohibited advertising... If you are an advertiser," he said, marketing campaigns "no matter how clever, sexy or funny, must start and stick with substantiated claims." That is the law, he said, and a message the FTC wants to drive home.
He called it a "big victory" for consumers. Vladeck also said that it has created a new website, FTC.gov/reebok, that will provide tips on buying fitness gear and how consumers who bought its shoes can get a refund.
Vladeck said that the action was prompted by a multiplicity of sources. "We get consumer complaints, we read the newspaper, we watch TV like everyone else."