Advertising claiming that customers could lose weight, tone up and improve cardiovascular health simply by donning Skechers footware – some of it aired during the 2011 Super Bowl — got the attention of the FTC and the vast majority of US state AGs, resulting in a $40M settlement with the manufacturer.
Beyond the $40M, the company may be on the hook for restitution payments to consumers who bought their products either through the FTC or via a class action suit.
AGs from Tennessee and Ohio joined the FTC in leading the charge on the case, and were joined by AGs from 42 other states and the District of Columbia.
“Skechers’ unfounded claims went beyond stronger and more toned muscles. The company even made claims about weight loss and cardiovascular health,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC’s message, for Skechers and other national advertisers, is to shape up your substantiation or tone down your claims.”
The FTC detailed some of the advertising it took issue with:
* A Shape-ups ad telling consumers to “Shape Up While You Walk,” and “Get in Shape without Setting Foot in a Gym,” and claiming that the shoes are designed to promote weight loss and tone muscles. The FTC alleges that Skechers made unsupported claims that Shape-ups would provide more weight loss, and more muscle toning and strengthening than regular fitness shoes.
* Shape-ups ads with an endorsement from a chiropractor named Dr. Steven Gautreau, who recommended the product based on the results of an “independent” clinical study he conducted that tested the shoes’ benefits compared to those provided by regular fitness shoes. The FTC alleges that this study did not produce the results claimed in the ad, that Skechers failed to disclose that Dr. Gautreau is married to a Skechers marketing executive, and that Skechers paid Dr. Gautreau to conduct the study.
* Shape-ups ads featuring celebrities including Kim Kardashian and Brooke Burke. Airing during the 2011 Super Bowl, the Kardashian ad showed her dumping her personal trainer for a pair of Shape-ups. The Burke ad told consumers that the newest way to burn calories and tone and strengthen muscles was to tie their Shape-ups shoe laces.
* An ad that claims consumers who wear Resistance Runner shoes will increase “muscle activation” by up to 85 percent for posture-related muscles, 71 percent for one of the muscles in the buttocks, and 68 percent for calf muscles, compared to wearing regular running shoes. The FTC alleges that in citing the study that claimed to back this up, Skechers cherry-picked results and failed to substantiate its ad claims.
RBR-TVBR observation: The authorities are on high alert for diet and health claims, and Skechers campaigns made both and then some. This is very dangerous marketing territory if specific science isn’t available to back up claims.
This is something to keep in mind when putting together copy for clients at the local level. And this should be a no-brainer. You want to serve your advertising client, but you also want to serve your audience, and neither is served if a sale is based on a promise that can’t be kept.
So use copy to sell to the nth degree, but make sure at the same time that you’re keeping it real. End of sermon.