“Palessi” prank proves that value is in the eyes of the beholder (and the marketer)

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Discount shoe retailer Payless had some fun at the expense of affluent influencers — and proved two points for marketers: Value is often more a matter of context and perception than substance; and creativity still has a big place in effective marketing.

The concept: The discounter set up a fake “new” luxury shoe store in a high-rent district, and then invited movers and shakers to attend a champagne party grand opening.

Then it captured the responses of the visitors as they examined the regular Payless shoes, marked up to astronomical prices — as much as $600 for a pair of $20 shoes.

“They’re elegant, sophisticated,” one partygoer said in the story originally published in AdWeek.

“And I could tell it was made out of high-quality material,” another said in the video that has attracted hundreds of thousands of views.

Ultimately, Payless sold $3,000 in shoes at the gala — then told the partygoers that they had been “had”. But they didn’t fare too badly; they received complete refunds, and got to keep the shoes as well.

Payless pulled the prank to prove to its regular (and maybe some new high-end) consumers that its shoes may be inexpensive, but you certainly couldn’t call them “cheap”. A true marketing win for a bit of creativity.

But the story reveals something more important. If all it took was a fancy party to prove that overpriced bargain-store shoes are really worth every cent of the giant mark-up; what does this say for our ability to influence perceptions and make people think differently.

Obviously, I’m not urging fraud — but maybe it doesn’t hurt to package ourselves to the luxury market as if we really belong there since, it seems, “luxury” is more about the air than the substance.

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