What Were They Thinking? The Cautionary Tale Of Kinoki’s Snake-Oil Ad Tactics

Kinoki foot pads promised to painlessly suck harmful toxins from your body through the soles of your feet, and the company sold $14 million worth before its ads were yanked by the FTC and it was forced to pay it all back. The first in a series about the absurd ideas and products that actually made it to market–and what we can learn from them.

How could anyone forget these (although you probably wish you could…)? In the late 2000s, Kinoki bombarded us with relentless television ads and Internet pitches for adhesive foot pads it claimed would remove harmful toxins from your body overnight. The product was so popular that it even made the semi-legitimizing leap to the shelves of Bed, Bath & Beyond. (For what it’s worth, they’re still around, though at a dramatic markdown from their original price of $19.99.) 



Where They Went Wrong

The company made some incredible health claims with no scientific backup, although they claimed in the ads they had the proof…a big no-no in the world of the FTC. This magical detox system promised consumers that its “ancient Japanese secret to perfect health” could cure arthritis, cellulite, depression, diabetes, headaches, and insomnia, as well as remove toxins, heavy metals, and other chemicals from the body. Wow, now that is one amazing product. I wonder if it also mops the floor and boosts your IQ? 

Kinoki showed the foot pads “working” in the commercial when the footpads turned brown overnight, though, right? Total flim-flammery. Independent testing showed that the powder in the footpads would darken when it came in contact with any moisture, whether from sweaty feet or pouring plain old tap water on it. A comedic takedown on NPR, where the reporter subjected the “gray, slimy” used foot pads to scientific testing and proved they were a bust, didn’t do Kinoki any favors (and the report added insult to injury by declaring that Kinoki pads “really, really stink”). The product doesn’t even pass the sniff test–excuse the pun–of logic: Scientifically, the only proven way to remove toxins from our bodies is through the liver and kidneys, not your feet. 

Lying is never a smart marketing approach, but sales for Kinoki totaled a whopping $14.5 million–which it was court-ordered to pay back–before the FTC ban. Americans tend to be romantic dreamers who want to believe there are beneficial secrets from the older, often foreign civilizations. You may remember a few other products that used their ancient “secret” as a marketing tactic, including the very early days of Oil of Olay, as well as Calgon Water Softener Laundry Detergent, and Tiger Balm.

As globalization becomes more prevalent, we will no doubt hear the words “ancent Chinese/Japanese secret” again and again. Hopefully, as consumers, we will be a little smarter and do a little more homework before parting with our hard-earned money.


The Takeaway

If you develop a product based on deceit and blatant lies, there is not much hope for keeping it on the market. Sooner or later either the consumer will call you out, or the government will intervene. As marketers, we should always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what our product is, what it will do, and how and why it works. Consumers demand (and deserve) honest, authentic products to meet their needs and wants. Only products based on true consumer insights backed with benefit claims based on solid research or scientific evidence won’t end up banned, in the bargain bin, or both.

About the author

Sandstorm inc. is an innovation firm specializing in the upfront insights and innovation process.