Payless Shoes’ PR Prank

payless pr

Payless Shoes launched a fake luxury brand as a PR prank – and boy, did it work! The discount footwear retailer Payless pulled out all the stops and took a satirical shot at influencers.

This prank achieved a lot – it showed that the difference between Payless and luxury shoes are just brand names, and it also showed that even expert fashion influencers aren’t able to distinguish between a discount sneaker and a designer shoe.

In fashion, there is a whole industry of luxury brands that accumulate followers and use them for their influencer marketing campaigns to push their brands onto their devoted followers.

It looks like Payless wanted a taste of this action too. All the company had to do was set up a fake luxury footwear store in Los Angeles. They called it Palessi (read as Pay-less-y) and then invited influencers to check out and buy the merchandise.

The company went as far as launching a fake website and filling up a fictional Instagram account with stock images – and Influencers couldn’t resist!

The results turned out to be pretty hilarious. Eighty influencers showed up to the invite-only event and ended up buying $3,000 work of shoes within the first three hours, paying from $200 to $600 for a pair of shoes that were selling at Payless for around $20 during a holiday sale. The fake luxury brand was described as “sophisticated”, with people commenting on the “high-quality material”.

“I would pay $400, $500. People are going to be like, ‘Where did you get those? Those are amazing”, said a woman as she tried on a pair of bright gold sneakers.

The influencers were reimbursed at the end of the event – the company has used the footage of influencers from the event to create an advertising campaign.

The advertising campaign that will emerge out of this PR stunt will help Payless take on e-commerce competitors.

“The campaign plays off the enormous discrepancy [in the fashion industry] and aims to remind consumers we are still a relevant place to shop for affordable fashion,” said Payless Chief Marketing Officer Sarah Couch.

“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.”

The prank also plays into how psychology can have an effect on consumer behavior. “The way we evaluate things is through associations. If you put wine in a nice bottle, people like it more. If you package things up to look more premium, people will like it more,” said Philip Graves, a consumer behavior consultant. “If advertising has high production qualities, people will think it’s better.”

The company, which had filed for bankruptcy as recently as 2017, is now back on its feet (pun intended) with innovative and creative marketing and PR tactics getting consumers excited about its brand. The discount shoe store has managed to emerge from its Chapter 11 with a new energy – a rare success story in the retail bankruptcy scene.

-5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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