Which is worse — the perpetrators of the falsehood or its willing consumers? Neither particularly represents humankind at its most intelligent.
This is the story: the US Federal Trade Commission has just fined the sports company Reebok $25 million (€19m) for making unsubstantiated claims about some of its footwear.
Here is what Reebok promised — that by walking around in their EasyTone shoes, you would end up with an ass of steel. Specifically, 28% stronger and more toned than if you wore ordinary training shoes.
And not only that, but you would also develop 11% more strength and tone in your hamstrings and calf muscles by wearing these shoes.
Turns out that you do not end up with a 28% firmer anything, nor 11% stronger legs. You could, however, be about to be refunded for the cost of your shoes if you are an American shoe-buyer, as the US government took the unprecedented step of legal action against Reebok for its wildly optimistic claims about the power of its shoes.
But still. How gullible would you have to be to believe that the mere act of lacing up a pair of shoes is going to make any difference to the rest of your body, unless the shoes in question are demonically possessed, like the red dancing shoes in that fairytale that made the wearer dance until they dropped? That was a fairytale, by the way.
I wear FitFlops all the time. Their soles contain something that the manufacturers call “micro wobble board technology”. They are “the world’s first muscle-activating flip flop”. FitFlop also promises an increase in muscle activation by up to 11%. Yet after two years of wearing them, the only wobble I can detect continues to happen quite a bit higher up.
If I want to tone my wobble board, it won’t be via a pair of shoes. It will be down the gym, while avoiding the cake shop.
But we are such suckers for a quick fix. Anything to do with body image, with weight loss, with changing how we look — we don’t want to do all that hard work, all that tedious healthy eating and daily exercise towards an unrealistic ideal peddled to us via women-hating women’s magazines.
So what do we do instead? We wear caffeine-impregnated tights, because scientists reckoned that if caffeine speeds up the metabolism, then why not apply it directly to the parts that most need speeding up?
We consume all kinds of supplements that promise to accelerate fat-burning; there was even one fizzy drink which promised to burn calories as you drank it. Up to 100 calories every time you knocked back three cans of the stuff.
So that would be 30 cans of fizzy caffeinated green-tea flavoured pop to eliminate half a day’s calories.
Guess what — the product was revealed to be misleading. It didn’t work.
And remember Page Three stunna Samantha Fox? She endorsed a kind of magic slimming tea which was shown to be just that. A cup of tea. Nobody got any thinner.
But while even the daftest and most desperate among us recognise that magazine adverts promising that you will lose 10lbs in a weekend are most likely to be bogus, if a big name like Reebok promises killer glutes for nothing, you could possibly be forgiven for being taken in.
Yippee, you might think, laced into your shoes while sitting on the sofa enjoying a cream slice in front of the telly. At last, the solution we have all been waiting for.
The thing with health and beauty products is that we want them to work so badly that we engage in magical thinking, convincing ourselves that if Kate Moss wears Rimmel, then some of her goddess cachet might rub off on us if we wear Rimmel too.
Rimmel got in trouble for their mascara advert, with Kate Moss’s eyelashes resembling those of a camel. The truth was found in tiny vertical print: “Shot with lash inserts.”
The company denied air-brushing but, really, isn’t using false eyelashes to advertise mascara a bit like using a very thin person to advertise a slimming club?
They’re all at it. L’Oreal have been reprimanded for serial air-brushing, making their models look as though their complexions have been manufactured by Madame Tussaud. Proctor & Gamble were told off for insisting that their Pantene shampoo makes hair 10 times stronger than non-Pantene shampoo.
Perhaps it’s not that remarkable, this continuous serving up of preposterous advertising nonsense. After all, we are just a few decades from the widespread advertising story that smoking cigarettes not only made you glamorous, sophisticated and fragrant, but was even good for your health.
A nice healthy packet of fags could probably tone your lungs, and increase your bronchioli strength by 28%. Oh wait. No, sorry, my mistake. They don’t.