February 11, 2019

Faux-Fashion Foot Forward

What’s a brand worth? When you put a faux-luxe appeal around it, turns out it’s quite a lot.
Sarah Couch, CMO of Payless ShoeSource, decided to literally show how quality is true, and ‘fashion’ is in the eye of the beholder. Or foot of the wearer.
With the assistance of a firm that specializes in “culture hacking,” Payless pranked high-end shoppers by disguising their shoes not as discount, but as designer.
They started with an empty storefront that used to house Giorgio Armani and came up with an upscale-sounding, European name- “Palessi.” An interior designer created a luxe shopping surrounding. Actors became sales associates.  Now just invite social media influencers to a private launch party, and you’ve got the makings of a mega-mark up mock-fest.
Customers commented, “I would pay $400, $500.”  “People are going to be like, ‘Where did you get those? Those are amazing!’”
After purchasing shoes, for up to 1800% of normal retail price, shoppers were taken to the back room where the prank was revealed. Many responded to the prank with positive feedback, but there has been some millennial backlash — perhaps a ding on social media hits too close to home?
Payless’ stunt does teach us some important marketing lessons:
  • Perception is everything, and “luxury” and “quality” can be more arbitrary than we’d like to think — consumers can fall prey to pretty packages and environmental cues, though over time, a product has to deliver, oh emperor with no clothes
  • The retail experience does play a big role in perceived value and quality
  • Publicity and social media are amazingly powerful — and can be taken for a ride
With the success of yet another media prank, (looking at you, IHOP/IHOB!), now, more than ever, we should all be on our toes — even in inexpensive sneakers.
EDIT: And sometimes a stunt’s temporary success can only get you so far. Payless declared bankruptcy on February 18th — just 3 short months after the “Palessi” scheme. Although we don’t think there’s many things a good marketing campaign can’t fix, maybe a double declaration of bankruptcy is one of them….