Skechers advertised that its toning shoes would help people lose weight, build muscle and get in shape, claims that will now cost the company $40 million in a settlement with U.S. regulators.
The Federal Trade Commission announced today that the company has agreed to the settlement on charges that it "deceived consumers by making unfounded claims" about its Shape-ups, Resistance Runner, Toners and Tone-ups lines of shoes. Consumers who bought the shoes are entitled to refunds.
"Skechers' unfounded claims went beyond stronger and more toned muscles. The company even made claims about weight loss and cardiovascular health," David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "The FTC's message, for Skechers and other national advertisers, is to shape up your substantiation or tone down your claims."
The FTC also alleges that Skechers manipulated and "cherry-picked results" from studies to support their claims. In one case, the FTC says Skechers touted the endorsement of chiropractor Dr. Steven Gautreau, but did not disclose that Gautreau was married to a Skechers marketng executive and that Skechers paid him to conduct the study, which the FTC alleges did not support the claims in the ad.
Skechers denies its ads were unsupported and says it "believes its advertising was appropriate."
"While we vigorously deny the allegations made in these legal proceedings and looked forward to vindicating these claims in court, Skechers could not ignore the exorbitant cost and endless distraction of several years spent defending multiple lawsuits in multiple courts across the country," David Weinberg, Skechers' chief financial officer, said in a statement.
The Skechers' settlement comes less than a year after Reebok agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges it misled consumers with false claims about EasyTone walking shoes and RunTone running shoes.
The FTC's settlement with Skechers is part of a broader agreement that resolves an investigation that included the attorney generals from 44 states. Under the settlement Skechers is not allowed to make any claims about its toning shoes involving health or fitness benefits unless they are backed by scientific evidence.
"Hopefully, at least here stateside, this will make big companies think twice before they make these specious advertising claims," Chris Morran, deputy editor at Consumerist.com, told ABC News. "The hurt isn't the $40 million penalty, it's the millions Skechers won't be making selling toning shoes. ... The sneakers are going overnight from miracle weight loss, muscle toning shoes to sneakers and that's the bigger hurt."
Skechers' has also been sued by consumers alleging that Shape-ups can cause serious injuries, including stress fractures.