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Skechers pays the price for sketchy ads

In advertising, you’re allowed to be aggressive, edgy, clever and sneaky. You’re in a war for people’s attention, and a war requires weapons. One weapon you’re not allowed to use, though, is the lie.

Lying isn’t fair. It makes you a scoundrel who takes advantage of people’s trusting nature. It’s also illegal.

Skechers has been running deceptive shoe advertising for several years, and now the company admits it has to pay $45 million dollars in settlement costs plus $5 million in fees as a result. The company sold its Shape-ups shoe brand with lines like “Shape up while you walk”—essentially claiming that you can get toned without hard work just by wearing those shoes.

The Federal Trade Commission singled out several Skechers ads, including a 2011 Super Bowl ad starring Kim Kardashian (seen above), a TV commercial starring Brooke Burke (screen grab at top of post), and this ad promising that you can “get in shape without setting foot in a gym”:

I don’t use the word lying often. The FTC said Sketchers “deceived consumers by making unfounded claims”; a lawsuit accused the company of “deceptive acts or practices and false advertisements.” These are polite words for lying. Does any rational person think walking around in rounded-soled shoes is even remotely as beneficial as real exercise–like say, running a good, hard mile in cheap sneakers?

The FTC also uncovered a suspicious doctor Skechers was using as a spokesperson. According to the FTC, Skechers ran:

“Shape-ups ads with an endorsement from a chiropractor named Dr. Steven Gautreau, who recommended the product based on the results of an ‘independent’ clinical study he conducted that tested the shoes’ benefits compared to those provided by regular fitness shoes. The FTC alleges that this study did not produce the results claimed in the ad, that Skechers failed to disclose that Dr. Gautreau is married to a Skechers marketing executive, and that Skechers paid Dr. Gautreau to conduct the study.” (Emphasis mine.)

For its part, Sketchers admits no wrongdoing and says research is on its side:

“The Company fully stands behind its toning shoe products and technology and is permitted under the settlement to continue to advertise that wearing rocker-bottom shoes like Shape-ups can lead to increased leg muscle activation, increased calorie burn, improved posture and reduced back pain,” said Michael Greenberg, President of Skechers.

What?! Is this guy stupid, in denial, following the advice of a lawyer, following the advice of a PR person, or all of the above? If you have back pain, go to a doctor, not a DSW!

This kind of marketing actually makes me angry. Consider the people it hurts.

  • Customers who bought the shoes—some of whom probably had health problems and expected the shoes would make them healthier—who wasted their money on a false hope.
  • Every honest shoemaker who lost a sale to Skechers.
  • People who work for Skechers. The marketing people responsible for costing their company $50 million might already have been shown the door, but innocent employees who had nothing to do with it could lose their jobs or have their reputations tarnished too.
  • The marketing industry in general. Every highly visible lie like this makes consumers inclined to disbelieve all other marketing—with good reason!

The lesson here is one of the first lessons you were ever taught. Don’t lie. And if you find yourself with no choice but to lie or lose your job, get out of there, because sooner or later the whole place is liable to collapse and you don’t want to go down with it.

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Related: Skechers isn’t the first shoe brand to have this happen. Last year Reebok had to pay $25 million in a similar settlement.

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If you bought Skechers Shape-ups shoes: Visit skecherssettlement.com to see how you can claim a partial refund as part of the class-action settlement.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Advertising, Marketing

2 comments

  1. The other lesson being that when a shoe looks completely ridiculous and boasts it’s doing a bunch of stuff you can’t see, it’s probably a trap. Way to go Sketchers for making a ton of people look like total idiots for a long time- I still see those silly shoes around!

  2. The Sketcher ads were pretty clearly a scam from the start, though you have to wonder if their celebrity endorsers will ever feel some of the pain.

    Nobody expects much from Kardashian, but four-time Superbowl quarterback Joe Montana created a couple of pretty heavily aired spots and said:

    “I truly believe in this product, which is why I’m looking forward to working with SKECHERS and sharing my Shape-ups experience with the world,” began Joe Montana.

    “I spent 16 years on a football field — it was an amazing time, but also pushed my body to its limit. Since I started walking in Shape-ups, I have noticed an improvement in my core strength, and the pressure on my back and knees has eased.”

    I’m sure the money more than made up for the embarrassment, which is not the way it should be.

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