By Stephen Sidkin and Maxine Lavin, Fox William LLP

Reebok International Ltd

Recent magazine and television advertisements for Reebok’s EasyTone Curve Trainers made claims that were held to be unsubstantiated and misleading by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority).

The adverts claimed that the trainers helped to tone the legs and bum, by creating more of a workout for certain muscles. These claims were challenged on the basis that the effects of the trainers were misleading and could not be substantiated.

Reebok relied on a third party study it had commissioned, which was designed to test the effect the trainers had on muscle activation in contrast to walking barefoot or in other shoes. Reebok believed that the results substantiated its claim as increased muscle activation meant that the muscle worked harder when wearing the shoes, therefore leading to increased muscle tone.

This was rejected by the Advertising Standards Authority on a number of grounds. The study was found to be inadequate, as the sample size was too small to be an accurate representation of the effects of the shoes. This was compounded by the testing of muscle activation only for the first 30 seconds of each minute in a 5 minute testing period. Most importantly, however, the study only tested muscle activation, and gave no proof as to the long term effects that such activation would have on muscle tone. The study was therefore not suitable to support the claims made in the adverts.

Reebok was therefore prevented from using the adverts is such form.

Chums Ltd

Earlier this month an adjudication was upheld against the advert placed in the press by the online clothing store, Chums Ltd.

The advert for a free boots offer was headlined "FREE PAIR OF MEN'S AND LADIES [sic] WATERPROOF BOOTS FOR EVERY READER". The text next to a picture of a pair of boots stated "BUY ONE PAIR FOR £24.99+p&p GET A SECOND PAIR FREE". Smaller text below stated "THAT'S LESS THAN £12.50 PER PAIR! TERRIFIC VALUE!".

This advert was challenged on the basis that the claim was misleading, as the complainant believed that the price had been inflated to cover the cost of the “free” boots.

The claim was upheld as Chums failed to provide evidence to demonstrate that the boots had ever been sold at £24.99. It was therefore considered that Chums had inflated the price of a single pair of boots to cover the cost of the purportedly free pair.

Chums was also prevented from using the advert in such form.

These adjudications reinforce the necessity for retailers to provide accurate information in adverts, and the dangers that exist for retailers who do not comply with the ASA’s Code. Whilst the sanction in these cases were relatively mild, the ASA can impose more stringent penalties on those who infringe. To add to this, from 1 March 2011, the ASA's regulatory capacity will extend to advertisers' own marketing communications on their own websites and marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under their control, such as the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.

This article was written by Stephen Sidkin, partner, and Maxine Lavin, trainee solicitor, at Fox Williams LLP who are members of Fox Williams’ Fashion Law Group and who can be contacted for more information at ssidkin@foxwilliams.com or mlavin@foxwilliams.com

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