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Reebok is "standing by its technology" after agreeing to refund $25 million to Americans who, led on by deceptive ads, bought its popular toning shoes . The case - one of the largest settlements ever with the US government over advertising claims - will reinforce " the negative view some people have of advertising," said one expert.
The Federal Trade Commission said the footwear maker’s ads frequently featured “very toned, scantily-clad, and sometimes nude’’ women who falsely said that the shoes had been shown to tighten muscles.
The US settlement follows a similar case in the UK where the Advertising Standards Authority banned a magazine ad for Reebok EasyTone Curve trainers and barred a TV advertisement from being broadcast again without substantial revisions.The ASA said the claims in both advertisements were unsubstantiated and misleading.
As part of the American settlement, Reebok is barred from using such claims to market its toning merchandise.
Toning shoes, said the Boston Globe, are sneakers designed with unstable soles so leg muscles have to work harder to maintain balance during everyday activities .Sales zoomed last year to $1.1 billion from $350 million in 2009. The sneakers were sold at a premium price of up to $100 a pair
In one television and Internet ad , said the FTC , a scantily-clad model, said to the camera , “Reebok EasyTone shoes not only look fantastic, they’ll help make your legs and butt look great, too.’’
Larissa Bungo, of the FTC’s case team, said Reebok made specific performance claims related to its toning shoes without having proof.
“We want all marketers to know they must have substantiation for their claims prior to making them,’’ Bungo said.
But Reebok says it is standing behind the toning technology. “Settling does not mean we agree with the FTC’s allegations; we do not,’’ the company said in a statement.
“We have received overwhelmingly enthusiastic feedback from thousands of EasyTone customers, and we remain committed to the further development of our EasyTone products.’’
Reebok - owned by German firm Adidas- is the first manufacturer to settle false advertising charges over toning shoes, but others are under scrutiny, said the Globe.
Reebok Customers who want a refund can go to www.ftc.gov/reebok to submit a claim. If the refund request is in excess of $200 they may be asked for proof of purchase.
A study released in 2010 by the non-profit American Council on Exercise said the shoes failed to live up to fitness promises made by the manufacturers.
“People do want to believe in an effortless approach to becoming fit,’’ Cedric Bryant, the council’s chief science officer, said .
“But the claims that these shoes helped burn calories and produced a firmer butt were not supported by the research. It’s not a sexy message, but getting fit requires a combination of regular activity, sensible eating, and making lifestyle changes.’’
Professor Chris Cakebread, who teaches advertising and sports marketing at Boston University, said the FTC settlement with Reebok would reinforce the negative perception many people have of advertising.
“I would equate Reebok toning shoe marketing with bad diet pill advertising,’’ Cakebread told the Globe. “You get what you pay for, buyer beware.’’