What your ads say and what the science supports: If the shoe doesn't fit...

According to the FTC, Skechers made false and deceptive claims about the benefits of Shape-ups and other Skechers brands.  If you’re in the fitness or health business, the $40 million settlement should grab your attention.  But the underlying principles apply to all advertisers.  If you're looking to get a leg up on substantiation, here are some footnotes to take from the case.

Proving ground.  To support their representations, advertisers must have at least the level of proof they claim expressly or by implication to have.  For example, Skechers’ ads referred to a “clinical trial,” “clinical case studies,” and “four clinical studies in the US and Japan.”  Furthermore, using statistics to the second decimal place, Skechers’ ads touted pounds and percentages of fat that people lost by wearing Shape-ups, compared to other shoes.  But even if your ads don’t cite specific studies, under FTC law you still need a reasonable basis for all express and implied claims conveyed to consumers. Where can you go for more information?  One resource is the FTC’s Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry.  Don’t let the title fool you.  Even if supplements aren’t your line, it’s a useful resource for evaluating ad claims.  If it helps, just think of it as An Advertising Guide for [Insert Your Company Name Here].

By the numbers.  As the Dietary Supplement Guide explains, there’s no one-size-fits-all test protocol.  But the methods you use have to be sound — and some basic standards have gained universal acceptance.  For example, rocket scientists and English majors alike can agree on the importance of gathering data accurately.  If the underlying numbers aren’t tallied with care, chances are the results won’t be reliable.  According to the FTC’s complaint against Skechers, in one study, some participants wearing Shape-ups actually gained weight or had an increase in body fat, but the study falsely reported that they’d lost weight.  Other subjects who were in the control group and lost weight were falsely attributed to the Shape-ups group.  The FTC also raised concerns that data was missing or not collected for other participants.  The message for marketers?  As the Dietary Supplement Guide puts it, “Where the claim is one that would require scientific support, the research should be conducted in a competent and reliable manner to yield meaningful results.”

Declaration of independence?  According to the FTC’s complaint, Skechers’ ads conveyed that chiropractor Dr. Steven Gautreau “endorsed Defendant's Shape-ups footwear, based upon his independent, objective study of the product.”  What people weren’t told was that Skechers had paid Dr. Gautreau to conduct the study and that he was married to a Skechers marketing executive.  The FTC alleged that consumers would have found that information material.  Thus, Skechers’ failure to adequately disclose those facts was a deceptive practice in violation of Section 5.  Is there material information you should be disclosing in your ads?  It’s a fact-specific inquiry, of course.  But legal standards aside, here’s one rule of thumb: Imagine yourself as the buyer, rather than seller.  Would you want to know?  Would the information be relevant to your purchase decision?  Or for a real gut-check, how would you respond if your competitor failed to disclose similar info in an ad that knocked your product?  Read The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guides, What People are Asking for more on the topic.

Have questions about the Skechers refund program?  Visit ftc.gov/skechers.

 

 

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If you're looking for more information about refunds in the Skechers case, here's some news from the FTC.

If you applied for a refund as part of the Skechers case, the latest word is that the administrators are still going through the applications. As you can imagine, we received a ton of requests and it takes time to go through each one page by page.

But as soon as checks are mailed out -- we hope that will happen later this summer -- we'll post an announcement at www.ftc.gov.

Thank you for your patience.

i already left a comment about how bad the shoes hurt my feet after paying 120.00 +taxes for them
dianne fountain
241 mckenzie dr
swainsboro.ga 30401

I have had 4 pair and I love the shoes, but I didn't buy them to tone up, I bought them because they are the most comfortable shoes I have ever had!! I sure hope they keep making them as I am getting ready to need another pair!!!

saw add on tv..thought they looked comfortable which they did seem to be and bought a pair..should have gone a 1.5 size larger but didn't and they are a little tight so lacing is loose but my interest was in the cushioning of the shoe..i have one hip that causes me some pain after walking a bit and thought more cushion would be the thing to help..i don't know about the other conditions that are supposed to be made by the shoe..i have my own reasons..no complaint here as to the shoe itself however i don't think people should expect something to make them be anything..you have to rely on yourself..this is the same as taking diet pills not all work the same for everyone.

I never would have believed an ad like this. I did buy a pair of tone-ups, before I saw any of the ads, because they looked more substantial than regular flip flops and I got them cheap at an outlet. Read an article after buying that said the claims were false. But that they were better for your feet than regular flipflops because they do form a natural arch. Article said, and I agree, that the only way they help you lose weight is that they are so comfortable, you won't mind walking a little more. Sturdy, too. Mine are 3 years old, worn constantly, and still hanging in there. It's a shame they had to lie to sell good shoes. $40 mil, given the profits, is just what they deserve.

Were people actually complaining about the shoes? Like really? I can't imagine anyone really complaining. It seems like the FTC just saw dollar signs and saw an easy target. Of course they shouldn't have been running a lot of those promotions, but $40 mil? C'mon. One big issue is that the FTC doesn't think the consumer has any responsibility. I'm sure these consumers could have returned the shoes at any time if they wanted. Again, I'm not condoning what sketchers did. But consumers have to be more intelligent than thinking wearing an ugly shoe is going to make them lose hundreds of pounds. I urge you to post this comment because I'm sure many will agree with me.

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