Why Reebok Will Love the FTC's $25M Ban on Its EasyTone Ads

Last Updated Sep 28, 2011 2:03 PM EDT

Reebok's $25 million settlement with the FTC that bans it from making any further claims that EasyTone shoes will give you "better legs and a better butt" seems like a defeat for the shoe company. It is banned from making any further health or fitness claims for the shoe unless it has proper scientific studies to back it up.

But Reebok may have gotten what it needed out of the settlement -- the false notion that EasyTone shoes provide foot instability that makes your legs work harder while wearing them is already firmly established in many consumers' minds, and the settlement does not specifically ban Reebok from using the "EasyTone" brand.

The fitness notion was based on a tiny, anecdotal, unpublished study that had only five test subjects. Rather than conduct a proper study with a large number of subjects -- which might have demonstrated that shoes do little to alter the number of calories you're burning or the leg muscles you're using -- Reebok stuck to its five-person study all the way to today's settlement.

Reebok lost an early decision on EasyTone -- the National Advertising Division watchdog ruled the study was bogus in January 2011. But the legal delays lasted long enough for Reebok to flood the market with its misleading softcore advertising for more than two years after the product's March 2009 launch. Here's an early ad in which promised the shoes would "make your boobs jealous" of all the attention your post-EasyTone butt would get:

The British version of the ad, featuring model Kelly Brook, is so fetishistic it's hard to imagine it being aired in the U.S. While these ads were running, the toning shoe industry sold $1 billion worth of shoes in 2010, according to the FTC complaint.

Reebok's current crop of ads don't make any specific claims about how much more strength women will need to exert while walking in EasyTone shoes. All they do is show super-fit women working out while wearing the shoes:

Reebok no longer needs to make those claims because its branding is already in place. And with the settlement allowing Reebok to continue using the EasyTone name -- and really, how is "easy tone" not a fitness claim? -- the $25 million seems like a convenience fee that solidifies the scam rather than undoing it.