Saturday, May 19, 2012


A few weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission announced that Sketchers has agreed to pay $40 million to settle charges that it made “unfounded claims that Shape-ups would help people lose weight, and strengthen and tone their buttocks, legs and abdominal muscles.” Furthermore, the FTC believes that Sketchers falsely represented clinical studies that would seem to have legitimized their claims. As part of the settlement, those who purchased the company’s $100 toning footwear are eligible for a refund.

This comes on the heels of a similar settlement by Reebok over its RunTone and EasyTone shoe line. Both companies benefitted from the estimated $1 Billion dollars’ worth of “fitness shoes” sold in 2010 by urging customers to “Get in shape without setting foot in a gym” and presenting multicolored bar-graphs with titles like “Integrated Electromyography.” Sketchers even paid Joe Montana, Brooke Burke, and Kim Kardashian to appear in commercials. Sketchers continues to stand by their product but can no longer make specific fitness claims in advertisements.
Personally, I was flabbergasted to learn that a $100 sneaker with an integrated see-saw on the bottom was not a legitimate substitute for diet and exercise. Like everyone else, I assumed that my gym membership was nothing more than a stop-gap measure until a team of hipster podiatrists could craft footwear capable of replacing calisthenics and self-control.

I realize that the idea is tempting, but why do we continue to fall for this? Did that many people watch the TV ad of Brooke Burke wearing the shoes and believe that her physical appearance was simply the result of her sneaker choices? This woman films a different exercise infomercial every year and yet we really want to believe that she has finally discovered a way to look like she has a full-time nutritionist & personal trainer while actually sitting on the couch eating lardsicles.

The most impressive idea was the company’s reference to “integrated electromyography,” a system normally used to diagnose neuromuscular disease. Since the test measures the amount of electrical activity occurring in a given muscle, one would assume that a higher reading implies elevated fitness, and by extension, increased hotness. Of course, there is also a possibility that your calf and thigh muscles are in constant spasm because you have chosen to purchase shoes molded into the shape of a banana.       

It just goes to show that we are willing to accept anything as scientific evidence as long as it appears as a bar chart with an impressive heading. For instance, if I were to present a chart titled “Ferberized Electroencephalography” indicating that my company’s body-wash generated twice as many “Spencer units” as my competitor’s would you know what that meant? I would argue the results were a measure of hygienic invigoration but for all you know it causes cuticle cancer. 

At least they did not make the mistake of marketing this to senior citizens. Can you imagine giving your poor arthritic grandmother a pair of shoes designed to exacerbate her declining sense of equilibrium? Sure, it would sound like a great way to keep Nana’s legs muscles from atrophying until she eats it shuffling over to the easy-access shower she just had installed. I can’t wait until the Shape-Up gloves debut.    


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