What Vibram’s proposed FiveFingers settlement means to outdoor/fitness brands

A proposed settlement could return up to $94 per pair of FiveFingers. Is it time to stop making performance claims or, time to stop to following fads?
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Vibram has filed a $3.75 million settlement offer to end a 2012 class-action lawsuit alleging it wrongly promoted health benefits from its FiveFingers footwear.

If approved, customers could file claims to get back up to $94 — but most likely between $20 and $50 — per pair of FiveFingers they purchased between March 2009 and the yet-to-be determined date of the settlement.

Click here to see the proposed claim details, which have yet to be approved by the court.

Click here to see the proposed settlement, which has yet to be approved by the court.

Click here to see the original legal complaint against Vibram.

Attorneys and those who brought the suit could see up to an additional $937,000 for fees and expenses.

Vibram, who admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, will also agree to not make any future claim that FiveFingers “are effective in strengthening muscles or preventing injury, unless that representation is true, non-misleading and is supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.”

The company will set up a website — www.fivefingerssettlement.com — to help handle the claims and pay for 300 million ad impressions on social media and sites like Runnersworld.com to advertise the request for claims. Any remaining money would be donated to the American Heart Association.

 Sample banner ads proposed as part of the settlement in a case involving Vibram's FiveFingers.

Sample banner ads proposed as part of the settlement in a case involving Vibram's FiveFingers.

So what should outdoor and fitness brands take from all this?

Perhaps it’s time to take it easy on the performance claims.

In a world where every consumer is being driven to get faster, lighter, stronger, healthier and thinner, brands are racing to claim that their product will do it. And while technology and innovation can certainly help us push further, material objects are often not direct cures, especially without accompanying education and training.

As the wintersports world well knows, an avalanche airbag, beacon, probe and shovel won’t save you alone in the backcountry if you don’t know how to use them and make sound judgments in the field.

On the flip side, do we all need to be warned that hot coffee will burn us if we spill it? Or, that running barefoot might take years of patient training to adjust, and even then, might not be best for most of us? The blame game can stifle innovation and advancement.

In the legal end, this is a settlement, not a judgment on Vibram. They’ll continue to sell FiveFingers to a niche group of customers that enjoy and perhaps benefit from them.

As for the rest of us, we’re onto the next fad, which of course is … beet juice. Haven’t you heard? It cures everything.

--David Clucas

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