Reebok, one of the leaders in fitness footwear, is facing criticism by the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus over exaggerating the health and performance benefits of its top-selling EasyTone shoe line.
The shoemaker's claims include the promise that if women simply wear the sneakers, without necessarily engaging in other physical exercise, they can achieve up to 28% more of a workout for their glutes than if they were to walk in regular shoes."Men will be speechless. Women will be jealous. And no one will know that the reason's on your feet," one of the ads says. Get "better legs and a better butt with every step," says another; a third one promises "up to 11% more toning in your hamstrings and calves."
How does Reebok determine with such precision the level of toning its shoes can deliver? It commissioned an independent study in 2008 involving five very fit women between the ages of 18 and 35, who self-reported the results. The study, which was never published, was reportedly supervised by a specialist in exercise science and biomechanics -- but according to regulators, its limited scope does not justify the overreaching claims.
In response to an inquiry from the National Advertising Division, the advertising industry's self-regulatory body, Reebok contended that EasyTone shoes are the only fitness shoes with a built-in "balance ball" design on the soles to create instability, so that users' muscles would have to work harder. Various ads for EasyTone also depict young women, slim and in very good shape, who are shown from the waist down wearing underwear or skimpy shorts that accentuate their glutes.
"Aspirational advertising is pervasive for products like these, which promise the enhancement of one's appearance without effort," NAD's letter, admonishing Reebok to discontinue the claims, said. "While NAD does not believe consumers can reasonably expect to attain the figures of the women depicted in the advertisements simply by wearing EasyTone sneakers alone, the target audience of the advertisements (active women aged 20-50) can certainly take away the message that they can achieve a noticeable difference in the toning of their calves, hamstrings and glutes by wearing these shoes while doing routine daily tasks."
In one particularly racy ad dating back to 2009, a woman's breasts were "cast" as talking to each other to rant against their owner's posterior, which got all the attention because of EasyTone. "Make your boobs jealous," a voice over intoned.
Late last year, Reebok was the target of two class action lawsuits -- one in California and the other in Boston -- alleging that in its marketing campaign, the company claimed wearing EasyTone sneakers would result in "as good a workout as working out in a gym." The suits stated that not only did EasyTone sneakers not provide any physiological benefits to consumers, but they actually caused injuries.
"Although we disagree with the NAD's conclusions, we support the self-regulatory process and will take NAD's findings into account in future advertising," the company said in a statement.
In a near identical case last year, a class-action lawsuit accused Skechers of overstating the health benefits of its popular Shape-Ups "toning" shoes line. Ads for the sneakers assured trusting viewers that they could "get in shape without setting foot in a gym." The company charged $100 or more per pair of the shoes, which scientists had suggested were no more than an "overhyped gimmick."
EasyTone shoes carry a price tag of about $50 for the simplest models to more than $100 for fancier ones. It has been estimated that Reebok will generate approximately $1 billion in global revenue from the sale of the hyped sneakers.
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