Skechers Settles FTC Charges of Deceptive Advertising in Connection with Ads for "Toning Shoes"

Skechers agreed to pay $40 million to the Federal Trade Commission to settle charges that the company deceptively promoted a number of its "toning shoes", including the company's Shape-ups, Resistance Runners, Toners, and Tone-ups, by making unsupported claims that the shoes helped consumers lose weight and strengthen and tone their buttocks, legs and abdominal muscles.

The FTC charged that Skechers violated federal law by falsely representing the clinical studies supposedly backing up its claims. One of the advertisements that were challenged by the FTC included an endorsement from a chiropractor 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. However, according to the FTC, this study did not produce the results claimed in the ad, and Skechers failed to disclose that the chiropractor is married to a Skechers marketing executive and that Skechers paid him for conducting the study. Another ad claimed that consumers who wear Resistance Runner shoes would increase "muscle activation" by specific percentages compared to wearing regular running shoes. The FTC alleged that Skechers cherry-picked results from the relevant study and failed to substantiate its claims.

Under the terms of the settlement, Skechers is barred from making any claims about strengthening, weight loss, and any other health or fitness-related benefits from the toning shoes, unless they are backed by scientific evidence. The settlement also bars Skechers from misrepresenting any tests, studies, or research results regarding toning shoes. The settlement follows a similar settlement with Reebok International Ltd. last year over its EasyTone walking shoes and RunTone running shoes, in which Reebok paid $25 million to settle the FTC charges.

The Skechers settlement with the FTC is part of a broader agreement resolving a multi-state investigation, which was led by the Tennessee and Ohio Attorneys General Offices and included 42 other states and the District of Columbia. Skechers will provide an additional $5 million to the states, and $5 million in class-action attorney fees.

Take away: Advertisers need to be sure that the claims made in advertisements are not only true, but also reliably substantiated and an accurate reflection of what is contained in the substantiation material. If there is an affiliation between an advertiser and the party producing the substantiation of the claims such that the reliability of the substantiation can be questioned, that connection should be accurately disclosed.

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