The Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program recently determined that Springbak, the maker of insoles for athletes, should modify or discontinue its use of customer testimonials that did not reflect the results that consumers “typically expected.”

In recommending that the claims be modified or discontinued, the ERSP concluded that the company could support certain claims made in its broadcast and online advertising – for example, that the insoles will help consumers “run faster,” – but that its test results did not support other broad performance and express health and safety claims.

Springbak marketed Springsoles, insoles designed for athletes to improve their speed, vertical leap, jump, endurance and strength, through the use of testimonials, performance claims (i.e., “Guaranteed to help ease your feet and joint pain, improve your stability, and increase your athletic performance”) and establishment claims (i.e., “. . . this amazing and scientifically proven, patented spring sole”).

One study provided adequate support for Springbak’s claim that it could help users “Run Faster,” the ERSP said, because the study was double-blinded and conducted on 31 geographically dispersed athletes over various distance disciplines.

But most of the substantiation studies provided to the ERSP “consisted of summaries and abstracts of studies that were conducted on a small sample of subjects with little to no control parameters or statistical significance,” including an unblinded observation of seven subjects and an undated study of ten subjects.

Turning to establishment claims, the ERSP said that Springbak failed to provide sufficient reliable scientific data to support its advertising. Establishment claims require at least two adequate and well-controlled clinical studies for substantiation, the ERSP said, and the mere existence of a patent for a product does not, on its own, qualify as reliable, competent and consumer-relevant scientific evidence. The decision recommended that Springbak discontinue such claims.

Therefore, the ERSP said there was no reliable, reproducible evidence to support Springbak’s claims that the insoles could help consumers “Gain 5.5% Longer Stride Length” or alleviate health conditions like “feet and joint pain.”

Finally, while the ERSP recognized that Springbak had many glowing testimonials, all of which were genuine and unscripted, none of the claims made by the coaches in the advertising were supported by independent testing evidence.

Relying on the Federal Trade Commission’s revised Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, the ERSP said that quantified claims in the testimonials – like that track athletes “were able to do 35% more clap push-ups wearing Springbak” and that athletes “averaged 5.2 more repetitions” wearing the insoles – should be modified or discontinued.

To read the ERSP’s decision, click here.

Why it matters: The decision serves as a reminder to advertisers that there is no substitute for reliable and reproducible data to support claims that a product and/or its components will perform in a particular way. Consumer testimonials that include representative and quantified claims must also be supported by independent testing evidence indicating that the stated results may be “typically expected by consumers,” the ERSP noted.