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Bad ads cost Reebok $25 million

Marketers, here’s what not to do. Since 2009, Reebok has been pitching a line of footwear called EasyTone, shoes that are supposed to strengthen your legs and butt. The claims did not withstand scrutiny, and now the FTC has forced Reebok into a $25 million settlement. Here are examples of offending ads, three things copywriters can learn from this, and a link to how you can claim your share of the settlement if you bought these shoes.

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First, here’s what the FTC had to say about this in a press release yesterday:

“In its ongoing effort to stem overhyped advertising claims, the Federal Trade Commission announced that Reebok International Ltd. has agreed to resolve charges that the company deceptively advertised “toning shoes,” which it claimed would provide extra tone and strength to leg and buttock muscles. Reebok will pay $25 million as part of the settlement agreement…. Reebok made unsupported claims in advertisements that walking in its EasyTone shoes and running in its RunTone running shoes strengthen and tone key leg and buttock (gluteus maximus) muscles more than regular shoes.”

Here are the EasyTone ads cited by the FTC in its complaint:

They also cited this weirdly butt-obsessed TV commercial.

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Three lessons for copywriters from the Reebok EasyTone debacle:

1. Be careful with statistics. The FTC singled out the claim repeated in the TV commercial: “It’s the shoe proven to work your hamstrings and calves up 11 percent harder and tones your butt up to 28 percent more than regular sneakers, just by walking.” Those numbers actually came from a research study, but they sound like pure bullshit. Even if the statistics are somehow “true,” nobody with any insight into fitness believes you can get fit just by upgrading your shoes.

2. Listen to your customers. Reebok could have pitched EasyTone shoes as a fun, fashionable choice for people who want their butt to look good. Nobody disputes that good shoes are important when you work out. Instead they pushed it too far and ran a campaign with borderline-bogus health claims. No doubt this sold shoes, but it also disappointed people months later, when they saw no results. Online reviews of EasyTone shoes contain comments like, “I have worn these shoes when I walk over the past 3 months and haven’t seen any actual difference in my muscle tone.” There’s a customer who won’t come back. In retrospect, these ads were setting up customers for profound disappointments. Someone on Reebok’s marketing team should have stepped in, cited the customer feedback (and case history, and plain old common sense), and pushed back hard to refocus this campaign.

3. Know when you’re licked. Yesterday, Reebok put out a statement that said,

“We stand behind our EasyTone technology – the first shoe in the toning category that was inspired by balance-ball training. Settling does not mean we agree with the FTC’s allegations; we do not. We have received overwhelmingly enthusiastic feedback from thousands of EasyTone customers, and we remain committed to the further development of our EasyTone line of products.”

That’s a petty statement, obviously written with legal advice foremost in mind, that solves nothing and endears the brand to nobody. Not that Reebok has much to lose at this point, but they would have been better off saying, simply, “We’re sorry we misled our customers.”

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If you bought these shoes, you might be eligible for a $50 refund. The FTC has a site set up at Ftc.gov/reebok with information on how to file a claim.

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What about other toning shoes, like Skechers Shape-ups, which also make claims of fitness benefits? There is a lawsuit pending over injuries caused by Skechers toning shoes, but so far nobody’s taken any action over Skechers’ advertising as far as I can tell. There still may be another shoe to drop.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Advertising

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