Kai Ryssdal: You know those toning shoes? The ones with the rounded soles that are supposed to help you flatten your stomach, tighten your derriere, shape your legs and lose weight all just by walking around?
First of all, c'mon. But second of all, the Federal Trade Commission agrees with me. Today Skechers agreed to a $50 million false advertising settlement with FTC. And if you bought a pair, you can get your money back.
Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith reports.
Stacey Vanek Smith: You have to admit, it sounds pretty fantastic.
Ad for Skechers: Once my Skechers shape ups are on snug and comfy, I’m toning my muscles, strengthening my core, burning calories.
Or not. Skechers couldn’t back up those claims in a multi-state investigation. Also, the chiropractor who did many of their medical endorsements? Was married to a Skechers marketing executive.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine helped lead the investigation.
Mike DeWine: They made an awful lot of money from U.S. consumers by making claims that simply are not substantiated.
Toning shoes became a billion dollar industry. Shape-ups cost $100 a pair and are everywhere, including on the feet of Hawaii resident Marci Elizondo.
Marci Elizondo: I had just had the baby and he was a 10-pounder and I had gained 50 pounds during my pregnancy. So I figured it couldn’t hurt.
Elizondo isn’t sure if she’ll bother applying for a refund.
The real damage for Skechers won’t be the refunds, says marketing expert Mary Lou Quinlan.
Mary Lou Quinlan: It casts doubt on other products they might come out with.
Quinlan says companies have to extra careful with their marketing claims now. As the Skechers case shows, the internet gives angry customers a way to get regulators’ attention fast.
Quinlan: Now the FTC has an ally and that’s consumers.
Last year, Reebok paid $25 million to settle false advertising claims for its toning shoes. Dannon paid out $21 million for health claims it made about its Activia yogurt drink. Forget buyer beware -- these days, companies had better beware of the buyers.
In New York, I'm Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace.