Yes, you read the title right—people actually paid the amount for shoes that are ordinarily pegged at $20 to $40, sometimes even way less.
In an advertising stint that can be considered funny or cruel depending on your mileage, discount shoe store Payless invited influencers in the opening of a new Italian brand in the pretense of getting their feedback for the new shoes. The name chosen, Palessi, sounds Italian enough to lure influencers into accepting the invitation, while also close to the real deal. The location of the store was integral to hiding the trick: Palessi took the old store of Giorgio Armani at the high-end shopping mall Santa Monica Place and transformed it into a space filled not only with Payless shoes, but also golden mannequins and animals, and an angelic sculpture. Positioning it near other luxury boutiques such as Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. also did not hurt, instead only increasing the upscale feel of the venue.
On the day of the so-called opening, influencers flocked to the location and had their pictures taken on a red carpet. While holding their champagne-filled glasses, invited shoppers looked around for pairs they’ll take back home. The offers began at $200, and even went as high up to thousands of dollars. It was only after paying that the ploy was revealed to individual buyers, with the shock documented just as well as the initial reaction for posterity.
The experiment proved that consumers often associate price and a luxury label with quality, with some attendees praising the sophistication and expert craftsmanship of the shoes without the knowledge that they were from Payless. The scheme was not done with the purpose of proving a point, however, but as an attempt to change the brand’s reputation and make things exciting again for the store. It was an elaborate ruse proposed by Brooklyn-based DCX Growth Accelerator to the struggling brand. Every choice is deliberate, from the name that many would take to be Italian, to the theme of the physical store that would line Payless’ different offerings with a more upscale, even European vibe. There’s even a fake designer, Bruno Palessi (a quick googling shows a deceased Italian singer, so they got the name right), as well as a website and an Instagram account. Sadly though, these did not say plenty about the fake brand.
Sarah Couch, chief marketing officer for Payless, hopes that the campaign would make consumers reevaluate and reconsider the company for their footwear fix. We suppose the influencers would be significant in this especially when brands are relying heavily and expensively on social media tastemakers—considering the risk of a bad review, Payless did not let them go home with hundreds of dollars less in their account, instead offered the shoes for free if they wished to have them. If you have an itch for schadenfreude though, you’re free to watch the experience online and on television. The documented store opening will be broadcasted in chunks through ads on cable networks as well as video posts on social media.
Image credits: Andrew Sanchez, Payless, UIG/Getty Images, Richard B. Levine/Newscom TNS, Omniplan