“Boy oh boy! They are a truly snazzy and excellent looking pair of toe shoes, and I now respect you more as a human being!”, said NO ONE EVER I AM CERTAIN.
Footwear is a tricky beast. As far as things prone to subjectivity go, it would have to be fairly darned high up that little list. Trends come, trends go, trends annoyingly outstay their welcome. Trends can even transition from super cool and “in” to “I’m wearing these ironically and as a statement of how comfortable I am with myself GOSH.” I’m looking at you, Crocs.
Nothing spins this trend rotation carousel faster than the fitness industry. With fitness techniques constantly changing, footwear manufacturers want to appear to be constantly delivering the exact right solution to your exact training problem. Crossfit specific shoes now flood the shelves. There are different football boots available for AFL and soccer, despite their functions being entirely identical in every way.
Then we have the humble toe shoe. If you’re a toe shoe wearer, all power to you. I’m the proud owner of a pimp legionnaire’s hat (the cap with the flap on the back), and sure, I’ll wear that sucker in public. It prevents my tender neck from the harsh rays of the sun. Function over form, dudes.
If you find that there’s no better feeling than slipping your footsies into a pair of feet-gloves, and are happy to take the heat that comes with that lifestyle choice, you go for it son. The fact that the bulk of the population associates you with competitive-level Ultimate Frisbee and bringing a metal detector to the beach should be neither here nor there.
Just don’t wear them for their “health benefits.”
The most famous of the toe-shoe crowd, and the people that are credited with starting the movement, are Vibram. Their FiveFinger range is on the feet of any toe-shoe aficionado worth his weight in Frisbees.
The problem is, up until 2014, their marketing was sort of based on bold face lies.
Barefoot running has always been a fringe movement, with many successful athletes through the 60s, 70s and 80s choosing to do away with shoes. In 2006, having had 70 years in the mountaineering footwear game, Vibram released their first running foot-glove. Sales were minimal yet steady until 2009, when Christopher McDougall’s bestseller Born To Run hit the shelves, and the barefoot running craze really took hold.
People jumped aboard the barefoot running train as if it was the last one ever to leave the station. And Vibram were in the carriage, already somewhat established, ready to wrap their bare feet in something approaching a neoprene condom.
When you look at it, it is a fairly impressive achievement to monetise a minimalist movement such as barefoot running. Vibram really were selling ice to Eskimos. “Want to throw away your shoes and run as the good Lord intended? Buy our $170 shoes and you can!”
The issue was, while it wasn’t particularly intentional, they were using at the time questionable, and in hindsight incorrect, facts to do so.
The claims made by Vibram were thus. FiveFingers shoes:
- strengthened lower leg and foot muscles
- allowed both the body and the feet to move in a natural way
- stimulated a neutral function to aid agility and balance
- enhanced the range of motion in the toes, feet and ankles
- stopped heel lift, improving posture and aligning the spine
A few years after the craze started, disappointed customers started to come out of the woodwork and call bulldust on these claims. By 2014, the resulting class action lawsuit resulted in a $3.75 million payout to Vibram’s customers who felt cheated.
The problem with being at the forefront of a new fitness industry trend (or any trend for that matter), is at the start of the movement there often aren’t enough quantifiable facts to make a case one way or another. If you’re like Vibram, you may find yourself quoting a few half-baked studies that end up, in years to come, being the exact opposite of the facts.
So how is this avoided? In reality, it perhaps can’t be. Scientific facts have an in-built “half life.” Seven percent of the facts that we now hold true – or that are even quoted in this blog – will be shown to be untrue in a year’s time. With the goalposts constantly moving, your marketing needs to move with it.
Keeping on top of the latest data, not committing a long term marketing campaign to a questionable fact, and keeping your marketing generally ambiguous are all techniques to minimise your risk.
Or just market to a crowd that aren’t litigiously-minded, trail-mix-eating, juggling-in-their-spare-time toe-shoe-wearers (I wear a legionnaire’s hat I AM ALLOWED TO SAY THIS).