By: Hana Kotb

Payless, the discount show store, played the ultimate prank on VIP shoppers. They tricked them into paying markups of up to 1,800%! As part of a viral advertising campaign designed to shift consumers’ perceptions of the brand, they created a fake luxury brand — Palessi — where they built a temporary store and filled it with socialites and fashion trendsetters.

So-called fashion influencers paid up to $645 for footwear that usually retails for between $19.99 and $39.99. The fashion insiders were captured remarking on the quality of the shoes’ design and fabrication – before being told who had made them.

”It’s just stunning. Elegant, sophisticated,” one shopper said of a stiletto heel at the Palessi’s launch party.

“I can tell it was made with high-quality material,” said a man about a pair of leather sneakers.

Payless enlisted advertising agency DCX Growth Accelerator to create the fake luxury store and invited 60 influencers, recruited from the street and social media, to the made-up brand’s launch party in Los Angeles, California. They played around with the letters in Payless to produce their fake luxury store.

“We said let’s give the campaign a handle, something creative that will be stickier, that an upscale retailer would really do,” Cameron said. “I went on Wikipedia and looked up a list of Italian family names and saw Alessi, and added a ‘P’ to that. We also created a website around Palessi because we figured people would Google it.”

He said the intention was to bring the brand back to its roots of appealing to the pragmatic American consumer. He said Payless had recently gone off track in an era of “aspiration inflation.”

“We interviewed all these consumers who said they loved great styles but resented the elite prices that people would pay for industry fashion brands. We had an interesting opportunity to take a cultural position and said, ‘Let’s have Payless gently make fun of all of that and go back to this pragmatist position in culture.’ That seems to have tapped a nerve.”

He said the stunt indicates how powerful branding is in today’s society. “The right cultural codes can completely transform the perceived value of just about anything,” he said.

Influencers were stunned upon learning the shoes were from Payless. The shoppers got their money back, but were allowed to keep the shoes.

What do you think? Would you pay more for a name?