These boots are made for prankin': Payless' fake luxury shoe launch shifts perceptions

The discount shoe retailer made a case for itself as a place to go for affordability and fashion.

Company: Payless ShoeSource
Campaign: Palessi store
Agency mix: DCX Growth Accelerator (strategy, creative, PR)
Duration: October 26-27, 2018

Palessi. Sounds slightly familiar, doesn’t it?

Influencers flocked to the luxury shoe brand’s launch and dropped hundreds on its products, only to later find out that the shoes were actually priced as low as $20 and made by discount retailer Payless ShoeSource.

Payless wanted a campaign that presented the store not just as an affordable option, but a fashionable one.

"We were looking for a way to speak to our customers and people who had stopped shopping with us in a way that could be catchy, thought-provoking, and really grab their attention -- something we hadn’t been able to do successfully in a long time," said Sara Couch, Payless’ head of marketing.

The retailer approached a number of agencies in September. When DCX pitched the Palessi concept, Couch knew they had a winner.

"It was a bit of a risk, but it was the message we wanted to get across: Payless is the place for fantastic shoes and if you haven’t been in a while, you should definitely come back and give us a chance," she said.

The campaign, from pitch to pop-up, was executed within a matter of weeks. DCX spearheaded operations, but Payless also hired a team, led by a store leader who had experience working with luxury brands, to set up a pop-up space in Los Angeles. Held on the last weekend of October, the event generated more than $30,000 in sales in the first few hours.

Most shoes were "priced" between $200 and $600. Each time a purchase was made, the shopper was whisked to the back of the room, where a camera crew was ready to film the reveal: the shoes they’d just purchased actually retailed for $20 to $40. All money was refunded.

Footage from the event was used to create 30-second and 15-second clips, which ran on television. Payless used those same spots to promote the brand on social.

"We were hoping to create a perception shift for Payless -- that was the primary goal," Couch said. "The nice outcome was that it did go viral. We got a lot more people talking about shoes and the value that you perceive in products."

The campaign generated 69,271 shares and 28,550 likes on Twitter. The official video of the stunt has been viewed nearly 900,000 times on YouTube, not counting the additional hundreds of thousands of views the online clip generated from various media outlets that covered the event.

In total, the campaign received 1,077 earned media mentions, including coverage on "Good Morning America," and in The Washington Post, USA Today, and Fortune.

While Couch declined to share specific sales data, "we had a strong holiday season," she said, and the company was pleased with the impact the campaign had on new customer acquisition.

Today, the campaign lives on via a Palessi brand page on the Payless website.

"We are cooking up more ways to continue the story," Couch said.

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