Tricking influencers into spending $640 on $35 shoes is the PR stunt 2018 deserves

Payless ShoeSource faked a luxury shoe launch and tricked influencers into paying more than 10x for their discount kicks -- all for a commercial.


November 30, 2018

Payless ShoeSource made a fake luxury brand and tricked fashion influencers into spending $640 for their discount kicks — an 1,800% markup on shoes that normally retail for around $35.

On the one foot, the publicity stunt showed the only difference between Payless and luxury shoes is a brand name. On the other foot, it proved “expert” fashion influencers can’t tell a discount sneaker from a designer collectible.

Anyone who’s anyone wears… Palessi

All Payless needed to do was rent a former Armani store in Santa Monica with dramatic lighting, launch a fake website with an Italian-sounding name, fill up a fictional Instagram account with stock images, and BOOM — fashion influencers were buzzing with open checkbooks.

The 80 influencers who showed up to the invite-only event bought $3k worth of shoes in the first 3 hours, with many commenting on the fake luxury brand’s “sophisticated” style and “high-quality material.”

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Payless reimbursed the ignorant influencers at the end of the event, and now the ShoeSource plans to use the footage of the influencers to create a commercial.

Payless still has sole

The ShoeSource filed for bankruptcy in 2017, and after closing 670 stores it looked like the shoe shop’s laces would stay untied for good.

But after cleaning up its balance sheet, Payless decided to focus on its main strength: Helping parents buy $15 glow-in-the-dark Ninja Turtle velcro shoes in under 10 minutes.

By doubling down on brick-and-mortar budget shoes, Payless managed to emerge from its Chapter 11 more or less unscathed — a rare success story in the scary world of retail bankruptcy.

A different kind of fashion statement

The advertising campaign that will come out of the stunt (created in association with ad agency DCX) will help Payless take on expensive e-commerce competitors like Allbirds or Rothy’s.

“The campaign plays off of the enormous discrepancy [in the fashion industry] and aims to remind consumers we are still a relevant place to shop for affordable fashion,” Payless CMO Sara Couch told Adweek.

So kudos, Payless — out-faking people who are paid to post fake testimonials deserves an Oscar.

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