These Shoes Were Made for Walking (if you want to lose weight)

Erin is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

My well-worn and well-loved Avia toning shoes.

 

Because either the U.S. government thinks Americans can't decipher between fact and reality TV, or because they think Skechers (NYSE: SKX) intended to fool women into thinking they could look like a reality TV star with a pair of shoes, (or worse, because Americans are that dense), Skechers has agreed to pay out $50 million in settlements.

Personally, I think this should be less about advertising, shoes, and money, and more about how ridiculous any woman would be if she actually believed that she could “Get in Shape Without Setting a Foot in a Gym.” Anyone absurd enough to believe that should be fined. But that's not the point.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in federal court, the Federal Trade Commission said Skechers' advertising went too far with unsubstantiated tag lines and claims about its Shape Ups (toning) shoe line that included such gems like they help people lose weight, tone lower body muscles and even combat heart disease, just by wearing the shoes. (And failed to mention you must actually get up and work out in the shoes for any of those things to happen.)

“Skechers put its foot in its mouth by making unsubstantiated claims,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, and one very punny, punny man.

Let's get one thing straight, no shoes, whether rounded on the bottom or not (as toning shoes such as Shape Up are), will make anyone look like spokesmodels Kim Kardashian or Brooke Burke. To do that, you will need a plastic surgeon*, a lot of money, and a lot of time to spend at the gym with professional trainers. If a 30 second commercial made you think you could lose weight and combat heart disease while eating chocolate truffles on the couch and watching TV, all from simply wearing these magic shoes, then I feel very sorry for you.

So why is Skechers getting punished like this? Other shoe companies like Nike (NYSE: NKE), Reebok (owned by Adidas ) and Avia (a wholly owned subsidiary of Brown Shoes (NYSE: BWS) make very similar shoes. In fact, I am wearing a pair of Brown Shoe Company Avia iShapes right now. No, I did not buy them to look like a Kardashian. I bought them because they worked magic on my shin splints and relieved my lower back pain the minute I put them on. I'm a convert. So let's get that straight too- it is the advertising being punished and questioned, not the shoe.

The settlement agreement also includes refunds for the Skecher brand shoes Resistance Runner, Toners and Tone-ups. The FTC expects the settlement, which has not been finalized, to be its largest ever in terms of the amount of money refunded to consumers. Which begs the question- will the customers have to admit that they were fooled by a commercial made by a woman who is famous for her online sex tape, and then they acted upon the claims too? Did the women really buy the shoes and go home and do nothing, and then find themselves shocked that it didn't work? If so, let's not just refund the cost of the shoes, let's get them a fifth grade education for free while we're at it. They desperately need one.

Skechers has defended its advertising as “appropriate.” And I am going to back them up here. Have you seen these shoes? I'm not going to lie to you, they look a little goofy. I don't care which brand you are talking about, they aren't very cute. It took a lot of advertising to convince anyone that they wanted to be seen in these shoes. (And yet, I still wear them, and will continue to do so, because they work well for me.) In a statement, the company said it chose to settle because to do otherwise would have been “an unreasonable burden” on its business.

Lest you think the FTC is picking on Skechers for daring to be associated with a reality TV star who sells her name and image for money, it is important to note that last September, Reebok agreed to pay $25 million for the same sins regarding EasyTone and RunTone shoes. Why does Skechers have to pay more? They have a larger market share, according to the FTC. It captured half of the $550 million retail toning-shoe business last year, according to research firm SportsOneSource. Thus far, there are no active lawsuits against Brown Shoe and Avia, but a quick internet search will produce dozens of hungry lawyers hoping for a class action.

This isn't really about the effectiveness of shoes or false advertising claims. This is about a lazy and yet litigious society. The real people who should be punished are the ones who actually thought shoes would make them thin, and not the people who tried to make a different kind of shoe to encourage the lazy ones to get up off the couch and turn off the TV.

Consumers seeking a refund can go to ftc.gov/skechers.

*I am not implying either woman has had plastic surgery. I am implying that if you want to look like them, a plastic surgeon may be necessary.

 


ErinAnnie has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of SKECHERS USA. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.

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