Claims by a manufacturer that its shoes will relieve ankle pain by as much as 92% and back pain by 91%, among other benefits, are false, putting the company and its owner in violation of federal law and a 2001 order to stop selling products on the basis of misleading statements, the Federal Trade Commission has charged.
Gravity Defyer says in ads that its health claims about its VersoShock soles are clinically proven, but the study it conducted is statistically invalid because of its small size and short duration, the FTC says.
The research also wasn’t adequately double-blinded, failed to adequately control for other participants’ treatments and relied on participants’ self-reported pain levels without including other functional tests.
It also failed to take into account data from participants who wore the shoes with and without the VersoShock soles, and it included results from participants who stopped wearing the shoes. The study was also designed to measure knee pain, not ankle or back pain.
“Defendants lacked competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the claims,” the FTC said.
The company saw its sales grow from $3.9 million in 2016 to $11.2 million in the first three quarters of 2019 based in part on print and online advertising directed at older consumers in publications like Sunset, The Saturday Evening Post and The National Enquirer.
The ads included testimonials that the shoes alleviate pain located in the knees, back or feet, or associated with conditions such as plantar fasciitis, arthritis or neuropathy. But there’s no reason to suppose people who buy the shoes will experience similar benefits, the FTC says.
“Defendants have implied that the experiences described in the testimonials represent the typical or ordinary experiences of people who use the product,” the agency says.
The claims put the company’s owner, Alexander Elnekaveh, in violation of a 2001 order in which he agreed to stop running misleading promises after he was charged with doing that in ads for Super FuelMAX, an automotive aftermarket fuel-line magnet device he sold through a previous company he owned, and Gadget Universe.
In the earlier complaint, the FTC said the ads were misleading because the tests the company conducted at a certified EPA laboratory to show the device reduced fuel consumption by 27% and harmful emissions by 42% didn’t actually reach those conclusions.
“Gadget Universe and Defendant Elnekaveh did not have a reasonable basis that substantiated these representations,” the FTC said in the earlier order. “They were therefore false or misleading.”
In its claim submitted to the United States District Court in the District of Columbia, the FTC is seeking civil penalties and a permanent injunction against Elnekaveh and Gravity Defyers for violating the previous FTC order and making unsubstantiated claims about the consumer testimonials, product efficacy and the proofs that were used.
“Consumers are suffering, have suffered, and will continue to suffer substantial injury as a result of Defendants’ violations of the Commission Order and the FTC Act,” Maria Del Monaco, the lead FTC attorney on the case, said in the complaint.