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Kim Kardashian said it, but should consumers believe it? Skechers USA long claimed that its Shape-Up shoes would increase muscle toning and help people lose weight, just by wearing them. Frustrated consumers, whose gluteus maximuses don’t appear any different, brought suit against the company, alleging that it issued misleading claims in its advertisements. A U.S. court agreed, and now Skechers is on the hook to pay $40 million to settle the claims. Customers who bought Shape-Ups, Resistance Runners, Toners, or Tone-Ups will receive refunds, either directly though the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or through a class action lawsuit.

The FTC similarly alleged that Skechers used false marketing practices to sell its shoes, including the uses of celebrity endorsements and citations of results of a clinical study. It turns out that the clinical study was conducted by a chiropractor married to a Skechers’ employee, and the chiropractor also received compensation to conduct the study. The objectivity of the results thus appears questionable at best.

In the advertisements at issue, some of the claims include that people who wear Resistance Runners will increase the “muscle activation” of certain groups of muscles and lists specific percentages of these increases. But the advertisement fails to define muscle activation.

Another concern for the FTC was that Skechers performed a clinical study in which it measured muscle tone results but only highlighted examples that supported its claims. In contrast, a well-run trial conducted by Nike randomly assigned runners as test subjects of three different types of shoes—a traditional running shoe, a shoe made by Nike with less support, and Vibram Five Fingers—to determine if shoe type actually increased the risk of injury due to the influence of human biomechanics.

Recent marketing claims assert that Cheerios lowers cholesterol, Vitamin Water is nutritious, and yogurt has specific health benefits. Do these cases further demonstrate the need for better regulation of the use of clinical studies to sell products?

Discussion Question:

  1. List the ethical issues with the marketing claims Skechers issued.

source: Matthew Herper, “Skechers Proves We Need Clinical Trials of Running Shoes,” Forbes, May 16, 2012.