WASHINGTON — Reebok International Ltd. and other brands advertising that their products strengthen and tone muscles were put on notice by the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday, as the agency said Reebok will pay $25 million in refunds to consumers to resolve charges it deceptively advertised that its “toning shoes” would provide extra tone and strength to leg and buttock muscles.

This story first appeared in the September 29, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“If you are an advertiser out there, remember the marketing campaign — no matter how clever, sexy or funny — must start and must stick with product claims that are substantiated,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, at a press conference at FTC headquarters here.

He said the agency had found insufficient scientific evidence to back Reebok’s claims that its EasyTone walking shoes and RunTone running shoes can strengthen certain muscle groups by a certain percentage.

“Since 2009, Reebok has urged consumer to ‘take the gym with them and to get better legs and a better butt with every step’ by claiming the instability created by its toning shoes increases the effects of a regular exercise routine and even provides health benefits to those who can’t find the time to exercise,” Vladeck said. “For the millions of Americans who paid up to $100 for a pair of Reebok toning shoes, Reebok’s claims didn’t withstand scrutiny.”

The settlement order and consumer refunds also extend to Reebok’s toning apparel, according to FTC officials, although the agency focused primarily on the footwear giant’s advertising and marketing of its toning shoes at the press conference.

The FTC’s complaint alleges Reebok made unsubstantiated claims in advertisements, which ran in print, and on TV and the Internet beginning in early 2009, as well as on shoe boxes and displays in stores that its toning shoes would strengthen and tone key muscles. The agency said Reebok falsely claimed that walking in EasyTone footwear had been proven to lead to 28 percent more strength and tone in the buttock muscles, 11 percent more strength and tone in the hamstring muscles, and 11 percent more strength and tone in the calf muscles than regular walking shoes.

Reebok’s EasyTone walking shoes and RunTone running shoes have retailed for $80 to $100 a pair, while EasyTone flip-flops have retailed for about $60 a pair. Ads for the shoes claimed that sole technology featuring pockets of moving air creates “micro instability” that tones and strengthens muscles as you walk or run.

Reebok defended its toning products.

“We stand behind our EasyTone technology, the first shoe in the toning category that was inspired by balance-ball training,” the company said. “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. Our customers are our number-one priority, and we will continue to deliver products that they trust and love.”

As part of the settlement, Reebok is prohibited from making claims in advertising or marketing that toning shoes and other apparel strengthens muscles or that using the footwear specifically will result in a specific percentage of muscle toning or strengthening unless they have the scientific evidence to support the claims. The footwear company also must refrain from making health or fitness-related efficacy claims and cannot misrepresent tests, studies or research regarding toning shoes and toning apparel.

The consumer refunds will be made available either directly from the FTC or through a court-approved class action lawsuit, which is currently in the courts.

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