Payless trolls influencers with viral marketing campaign

The budget footwear retailer said it wanted to ‘challenge today’s image-conscious fashion influencer culture.’ It produced sensational social media content in the process.

Payless PR stunt

They say you can’t put lipstick on a pig, but doctoring up bargain products (and their price tags) might work in your favor.

That’s what Payless showed when it recently opened a fake luxury shoe store in Santa Monica, California. The retailer wanted to pull the wool laces over fashion influencers’ eyes—and did so quite easily.

USA Today reported:

Payless took over a former Armani store, renamed the retail location as “Palessi,” and stocked the outlet with its discount-priced boots, heels, tennis and leisure shoes. Then, it invited a flock of partygoers and sold them the shoes, typically priced at $20-$40 in Payless stores, at inflated designer price tags of $200 to $600.

The experiment worked, as many influencers gushed over their purchases.

Adweek reported:

Party goers, having no idea they were looking at discount staples from the mall scene, said they’d pay hundreds of dollars for the stylish shoes, praising the look, materials and workmanship. Top offer: $640, which translates to an 1,800 percent markup, and Palessi sold about $3,000 worth of product in the first few hours of the stunt.

Payless gave influencers their money back—along with free shoes—after they revealed that the footwear the fashionistas were fawning over were budget items. Instead of revenue, Payless grabbed video content from influencers’ reactions to the reveal, which it turned into commercials for social media platforms as well as TV channels including TBS and Lifetime.

Insider reported:

A series of videos released by the retailer showed their guests waxing lyrical over the “sophisticated” footwear, which they could tell was “made with high-quality materials.”

Fortune reported:

The goal was to remind customers that the retailer is a place to shop for affordable fashion. Payless is not traditionally a brand that influencers associate with high fashion.

Adweek reported:

The retailer “wanted to push the social experiment genre to new extremes, while simultaneously using it to make a cultural statement,” said Doug Cameron, DCX Growth Accelerator’s chief creative officer. “Payless customers share a pragmatist point of view, and we thought it would be provocative to use this ideology to challenge today’s image-conscious fashion influencer culture.”

However, Payless was ultimately motivated to launch the stunt to stand out and attract buzz in a time when retailers are continuing to struggle against e-commerce competitors such as Amazon.

Payless’ chief marketing officer, Sarah Couch, told Adweek:

“The campaign plays off of the enormous discrepancy and aims to remind consumers we are still a relevant place to shop for affordable fashion,” Couch says.

The PR move was especially savvy, considering the retailer’s struggle with declining sales and store closures.

USA Today reported:

The discount footwear chain emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August 2017, having closed more than 670 stores. It currently operates an online store and about 2,750 stores in North America and more than 3,500 worldwide.

What do you think of the stunt, Ragan/PR Daily readers?

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