By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Reebok International Ltd has agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges that it made unsupported claims that its "toning shoes" help wearers get fit faster, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday.
The money will go toward consumer refunds.
Reebok advertisements said the shoes strengthened hamstrings and calves by up to 11 percent more than regular sneakers, and toned the buttocks up to 28 percent more, the FTC said.
"To its credit, Reebok pulled these ads sometime in the middle of our investigation," David Vladeck, head of the FTC's Consumer Protection Bureau.
Toning shoes are designed to be slightly unstable. Manufacturers say the instability requires the wearer to work harder, thus strengthening muscles.
"We did get consumer complaints. We watch TV. We read the newspapers," said Vladeck. "There is no such thing as a no-work, no-sweat way to a fit and healthy body."
Adidas, which owns Reebok, said it disagreed with the FTC and stood behind the shoes.
"The (FTC) allegations suggested that the testing we conducted did not substantiate certain claims used in the advertising of our EasyTone line of products," Adidas said in a statement. "In order to avoid a protracted legal battle, Reebok has chosen to settle with the FTC. Settling does not mean we agreed with the FTC's allegations; we do not."
The company added: "We stand behind our EasyTone technology -- the first shoe in the toning category that was inspired by balance-ball training."
Reebok brought out a toning shoe in early 2009 and has sold "millions" of pairs in the United States, said Katja Schreiber, an Adidas spokeswoman in a telephone interview from Adidas offices near Nuremberg, Germany. She declined to be more specific about sales.
Despite the Adidas statement, much of Reebok's advertising has already changed, and other changes are coming, said Dan Sarro, a Reebok spokesman.
A variety of companies advertise toning shoes, including New Balance, Skechers, Ryka and Avia. The shoes range in price from $12 to nearly $300.
Jaime Bianchi, an expert in consumer class-action lawsuits with the law firm White & Case, said these other manufacturers could become targets of the FTC if their advertising makes unsubstantiated claims.
"They normally go after the biggest player and work down," said Bianchi.
Skechers said in an August filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the FTC was looking at its advertisements for its Shape-ups and other toning shoes.
Private lawsuits alleging deceptive advertising have been filed against Skechers, New Balance and Reebok.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Bangalore; editing by Gerald E. McCormick and John Wallace)