Payless, a low-priced shoe store chain, recently orchestrated an elaborate prank designed to mess with social media influencers.
Businesses of any kind who want to stay on top of the competition must understand the current trends of today. The current trends of this day happen to involve social media influencers and epic pranks. Discount shoe store Payless ShoeSource, started by cousins Louis and Shaol Pozez in 1956, understands this concept.
According to the Washington Post, Payless decided to shake things up and get people talking about their contemporary shoe styles available for little cash by pulling off a master prank. It all began with a marketing idea to get people talking. The brilliant plan? Social media influencers talk (and more importantly, have lots of followers willing to listen) and pranks give them something to talk about. For the prank, Payless ShoeSource would secretly transform itself into "Palessi", a high-end shoe boutique with unique walking works of art from legendary (and non-existent) shoe fashion designer, Bruno Palessi.
First things first, Payless hired some of the best pro prankers in the biz in the form of Doug Cameron, founder of a 10-person advertising company in Brooklyn called DCX Growth Accelerator. After the idea was in place, DCX, known for their specialty of whipping up buzz-worthy pranks, went on the hunt for their prankees, people looking to jump on the latest trend by buying the hottest shoes on the market. Cameron and his team put their boots on the ground and sought out people who looked like they might fit the bill for Palessi potential shoppers. They also went online in search for social media influencers and invited them to an exclusive private launch party for Italian designer Bruno Palessi's brand new shop.
Payless and DCX went all out. In a former Giorgio Armani store at Santa Monica Place, the champagne was flowing as those about to be pranked admired the store, happily selecting shoes from a mini-runway as stylish sales associates, all dressed in black, looked on. Also looking on the whole set-up scene was a life-size angel statue, complete with several Palessi shopping bags in her delicately sculpted hands.
DCX had set the stage perfectly and now, it was time to set the trap and wait. Cameron urged shoppers to provide feedback because "the owner was interested in knowing how the first customers to see Palessi shoes reacted to his designs."
“I would pay $400, $500," one of the shoppers said. "People are going to be like, ‘Where did you get those? Those are amazing.'"
“Palessi is just such high quality, high fashion, taking your shoe game up to the next level,” another said while trying on a knee-high boot. “It looks really well made.”
“It’s just stunning. Elegant, sophisticated and versatile,” said a woman, as she held a pair of floral stiletto heels.
Another shopper called the experience "amazing."
Then the cash register began to make the sweet noise of success. Hundreds of dollars worth of "Palessi" shoes were sold at $200, $400, $600 and more per pair. Finally, after raking in the dough for the overpriced shoes, it was time for the grand reveal. Customers were led to the back room where they saw that their glamorous pricy new shoes were actually Payless shoes.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” the shopper who had admired (and purchased) the floral stilettos said.
Prank mission? Achieved.
Don't feel bad for the prankees. They were refunded completely and even got to keep the shoes that they were willing to spend big bucks on.
“We felt like this campaign would be a great way to get a lot of people to consider Payless again, and to realize it’s more than just a shoe store in the mall,” Payless’s chief marketing officer, Sarah Couch said.
One interesting aspect that was brought out by the prank revealed something somewhat disturbing about our society and the human mind. Are we really so shallow and willing to impress others that we would buy an item simply because others are telling us it's impressive? If Payless's Palessi prank is an example, all signs point to yes. An Italian designer's name along with an $1,800 price tag was applied to shoes that normally sell for $20 - $30 and because of the hype, people were ready to spend real money.
In the end, Payless's ultimate goal with the prank was to change the public perception that the shoe store sells cheap, unfashionable shoes. Based on the results of the set-up, it absolutely worked on the shoppers who gushed steady streams of compliments about the shoes. Did Payless and DCX's plan work for you? Let us know in the comments!