Sep. 28, 2011 at 11:22 AM ET
Customers who bought shoes that Reebok ads said would tone legs and buttocks could be getting a refund.
The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday the athletic shoe giant would dole out $25 million to consumers as part of an agreement to settle charges that it deceived consumers in ads for EasyTone and RunTone shoes which claimed people would get more shapely thighs and glutes by wearing the shoes.
“The FTC wants national advertisers to understand that they must exercise some responsibility and ensure that their claims for fitness gear are supported by sound science,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in a statement on the FTC's website.
While Reebok agreed to the settlement, the company is standing behind its line of shoes.
"Settling does not mean we agree with the FTC’s allegations; we do not," Reebok spokesman Daniel Sarro told msnbc.com in an e-mail. "We have received overwhelmingly enthusiastic feedback from thousands of EasyTone customers, and we remain committed to the further development of our EasyTone line of products."
The FTC said consumers will get the refunds either directly from the FTC or through a court-approved, class action lawsuit.
The FTC’s complaint focused on very specific claims made by Reebok in ads that wearing its EasyTone footwear was proven to lead to "28 percent more strength and tone in the buttock muscles, 11 percent more strength and tone in the hamstring muscles, and 11 percent more strength and tone in the calf muscles than regular walking shoes.”
These claims "didn't withstand scrutiny," Vladeck said. "The evidence was wholly insufficient."
Many advertisements contain general claims of health benefits, such as "it's the best workout you'll ever get." Such bragging, legally termed "puffery," generally stays on the right side of false advertising laws. Reebok ran into trouble because its claims were so specific, and its evidence for those claims insufficient.
The FTC settlement bars Reebok from making claims about specific increase in muscle tone, or any other health claims, without having "competent and reliable scientific evidence."
FTC officials would not discuss advertising claims made by other manufactures of toning shoes, which are made by Sketcher, New Balance, and other shoe makers.
Consumers who wish to apply for a refund should visit http://reeboksettlement.com/FTC and fill out an online application. Those who purchased Reebok EasyTone apparel are also eligible. Vladeck said the amount of refunds will be determined by a federal judge who will oversee the process.
Reebok has discontinued the advertising campaign with the allegedly misleading claims, and has told retailers to remove any store displays that contain the claims.
Msnbc.com columnist Bob Sullivan contributed to this report.