The fitness industry has seen a major boost in revenue during the past several years. Yes, due to the obesity problem in the U.S., along with the Millennial generation putting off activities like marriage and kids, more people are making time to add fitness routines into their daily regimen.
One company that took advantage of that was Vibram. Vibram is the shoe company that introduced the nation to Five Fingers, the "minimalist" shoe that separated each toe and provided very little cushion for the foot as one would run.
The minimalist movement took the fitness die-hards and enthusiasts by storm, showing people that the best kind of fitness is the kind that reminds us of our ancestors. Our ancestors didn't run with soles to chase down food to eat, so why should we?
It was advertised that shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers would build more muscle around the ankle, foot, and heel; all traditional problem areas for those who run.
Unfortunately, Vibram forgot to mention how they got the results to make those claims. A zealous group decided to call Vibram's advertising bluff, and now the group is settling with upset customers for $3.75 million dollars.
The video, which is in the link, shows that Vibram is refusing to accept any wrongdoing. We would assume, then, that Vibram could win the suit if it decided to release the actual results of the study.
But since the settlement was agreed to, perhaps it was easier and more cost-efficient to just pay and make the complaints go away. It is a business decision to be sure, but the perception is tough to overcome. All you business-savvy people who read Beyond Madison Avenue know well that a settlement doesn't mean that the business is guilty. No, rather it means that the settlement prevents it from going to court, which could end up being more costly. In many cases, risk mitigation and public relations can butt heads, because the media looking to attack the company has leverage in this situation.
As for the rest of the terms of the settlement? The company must advertise about the settlement, and the spots must reach a certain number of impressions.
Gotta get that data.
Brands in the health and fitness industry have a tough battle. People are shaped and made differently, so activities for one person cannot be an indicator that a product will work for everyone. We are fortunate enough to be built to run; and when we bought minimalist shoes (one pair from Asics, one from Fila), we did notice a difference in strength and running gait. But not everyone is built to run, and even more, some people really shouldn't run.
Silly us. Why should we blame the consumer? After all, they're the smart ones.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.