After Toning Tushes, Reebok Tackles Thighs
On the heels of its hit with EasyTone, the sneakers that promise to tone women's tushes, Reebok is set to introduce a line of EasyTone workout clothing. Come November, women will be able to buy pants, shorts and capris that promise a workout for thighs and rears just by slipping them on, as well as tanks and tees that it claims will improve posture, alignment and flexibility.
"Our ads will be fun, bold and provocative," John Lynch, Reebok's head of U.S. marketing and merchandising, tells Marketing Daily, "showing what our toning products do in an entertaining way."
But news of the launch comes at a time when the category -- the fastest-growing segment in the sluggish athletic shoe business -- is increasingly under fire for its gimmicky instant-fitness promises.
A recent study from the American Council on Exercise looked at results from Reebok's EasyTone, Skechers Shape-Ups, and MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology), and dismissed its marketing as so much malarkey: "There is simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone," researchers concluded.
And Consumer Reports, which says the segment is projected to grow 500% to become a $1.5 billion market this year, says they are potentially dangerous.
While millions are already tottering around on the shoes, which range from Reebok's EasyTone at $100 to MBT, at $245, most consumers are also leery. NPD Group, a market research company based in Port Washington, N.Y., just released an analysis of the category, and reports that sales and awareness are still growing, with nearly eight in ten surveyed aware of the products. But the majority isn't ready to make a purchase, and are skeptical of the fitness claims, based on the companies' private research.
"Our toning footwear and apparel collections have been fully tested both in our Human Performance Engineering Lab as well as through hundreds of hours of wear testing," Lynch says. "We fully stand behind our technology to deliver a state-of-the-art toning experience for our consumers."
Reebok is owned by Adidas, and while market leader Nike doesn't make a toning shoe, it looks like Nike hopes to turn that consumer skepticism into an outright sneer, boosting its just-do-it positioning. Nike is running print ads for its new Training One women's shoe, headlined "The Ultimate Quick Fix," which brags that its product "is not a magical toning shoe." The tag line? "This shoe works if you do."
But dismissing the whole category as a gimmick won't work, experts say. "Any footwear company can market ergonomic and body-enhancing footwear, based on smart design and research," Tom Julian, president of Tom Julian Group, a brand consultancy in New York, tells Marketing Daily. "The challenge comes in the form of delivery." Yes, he concedes, "Nike is the category leader and killer. But look how Under Armour became a challenger."
But walking the line between cutting-edge and silly fad -- even in a segment known for touting arcane technology and weird design -- isn't easy. "Marketing messages must be consistent, connected to the consumer, and offer realistic results," he says. "Otherwise, the product does become a flash in the pan."
Julian thinks the category may well evolve beyond specific fitness claims to more general wellness benefits. "When I first saw the shoes in Europe, before they arrived stateside, many walkers and travelers were embracing the shoes and talking positively about the benefits. Small retail shops merchandised the shoes for the health benefits, not the overnight magic of 'tone-fit-shape,'" says Julian.
The EasyTone clothing will be sold at Lady Foot Locker, Nordstrom, and Dick's Sporting Goods. Lynch says print and TV ads, from DDB, will begin in November.