American consumers are a pretty savvy bunch, and tend to know that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The Federal Trade Commission took it a step further, accusing the athletic shoemaker Skechers of running misleading ads about what its women's sneakers could do.
"Get in shape without setting foot in a gym," the ads for the sneakers said. The "Tone Up" shoes were designed in a way meant to add work to the gluteals, presumably strengthening one's buttocks. The shoes—just by being worn and walked in—would also help wearers lose weight and even combat heart disease, the manufacturer said.
In a more officially-worded complaint, the FTC said what most of us would conclude: What a load of crap. So obvious was this lie that Skechers agreed to pay $40 million in a settlement.
It's a victory for consumers, who deserve not to be outrageously misled by advertisers, but it's also an unintended coup for women, whom Skechers deeply insulted with its ads.
The TV spots for the sneakers looked like some sort of soft-core porn, or maybe a beer commercial during football season. They featured women in shorts more suitable for a pole dancer than an actual athlete, with the camera zeroing in on her backside so closely that one wondered if it was some new kind of obstetrician-gynecologist exam. A print ad cheekily urges women to "love your rear-end"'—except that the "love and "backside" parts were replaced by hearts, the second one upside-down. How clever!
Reebok's ads for their shape-up sneakers were even worse. The shoes will do so much to firm your butt that it'll "make your boobs jealous," the ad said. Well, it was effective. It made me decide right then and there that I would never, ever buy anything from Reebok again—not a running shoe or T-shirt or sweat sock.
Is it so difficult for advertisers to accept that women can be athletes? How self-centered do you have to be to imagine that the only reason women would exercise is to make their rear ends firm and appealing to men? There's a big market out there called women. And if you want to sell the product, don't insult the customer.