- Payless recently took over a former Armani store in Santa Monica and stocked it with $19.99 pumps and $39.99 boots. The brand reopened the shop as "Palessi" and invited influencers to offer their opinions on the "designer" products, according to Adweek. Payless launched a website and Instagram page for Palessi and put videos about the stunt on YouTube.
- Attendees didn't know they were looking at discount footwear from Payless and praised the products' look, materials and craftsmanship, saying they would pay hundreds of dollars for the items. The top offer was $640 for a pair of the shoes, which is a 1,800% markup over usual prices at the discount shoe retailer. Palessi sold about $3,000 worth of products in the first few hours.
- The shop rang up the purchases, but didn't keep the money. The cash was returned to the influencers, who got to keep the shoes for free. Payless captured their shocked reactions to learning about the stunt and is turning them into short- and longer-form ads, which will run on cable TV networks, including Bravo, Lifetime, TBS, Telemundo and USA, and on social channels, like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, through the holidays.
Payless' Palessi stunt, created with agency DCX Growth Accelerator, is an attempt to make a cultural statement and challenge "image-conscious fashion influencer culture," according to the brand. The company is also trying to reframe consumer perception of Payless, build up its brand image as a place to shop for affordable and stylish footwear, and drum up excitement around the holidays, a key time for retailers.
Along with Palessi, Payless has opened several pop-up stores across the country, including in New York City, where it offered snacks for Black Friday shoppers. The shops, which offer a selection of shoes, handbags and accessories, opened in large industrial spaces with a more modern look and feel than traditional Payless stores.
Stunts like the fake Palessi brand are being embraced by some marketers as a way to make a statement for their core audience while attracting the kind of media attention and social media traffic that can introduce the brand to new customers. Most notably, fast food brand Burger King has used the tactic multiple times, including the launch of "Chick Fries," a variation of the Chicken Fries menu item that comes in a pink box and cost more than the regular item, in a stunt to explain the "pink tax," which refers to products marketed to women that usually cost more. Burger King released a YouTube video showing customers' reactions to being charged more.
IHOP saw its burger sales increase 4 times this summer after changing its name to IHOb, with the "b" standing for burgers, the company reported. The stunt, which included a temporary logo change online and at certain restaurant locations, led to more than 20,000 media stories and 36 billion earned media impressions. Social media mentions of the restaurant reached more than 4 billion people.
The past few years have been rough for Payless, as the retailer filed for bankruptcy in April 2017 and announced the closure of around 800 stores. The company's CEO W. Paul Jones stepped down in August 2017 as the company exited bankruptcy.