New York(CNN Business) Who would be willing to pay upward of $500 for Payless shoes?
Hoodwinked social media influencers, that's who.
Payless, a brand known for budget-friendly shoes, opened a fake pop-up store called "Palessi" in a Los Angeles mall and invited influencers to the grand opening. The store was stocked with Payless shoes in disguise.
"I would pay $400 or $500," a woman says in a TV ad, holding a pair of $19.99 sneakers. Another shopper calls the Payless shoes "elegant and sophisticated."
The stunt even included a sleek website and an Instagram account.
A shopper gasps in disbelief when the secret is revealed. "Shut up, are you serious?" she says.
About 80 influencers attended over two nights, according to Payless. They shelled out a total of $3,000. One shopper spent $640 for a pair of boots, which represented an 1,800% markup. Payless, however, returned their money and let them keep the shoes. Payless said the influencers were paid a small stipend to attend.
Payless said the social experiment was meant to remind shoppers that Payless' affordable shoes are fashionable too.
"The campaign plays off of the enormous discrepancy and aims to remind consumers we are still a relevant place to shop for affordable fashion," Payless CMO Sarah Couch told Adweek.
A study published in 2008 tested the idea that price affects perceptions of quality. Subjects were given inexpensive wine to drink, but those who were told it was more expensive described it as more flavorful and pleasant to drink.
This type of marketing, in which real customers are shocked or surprised in order to create viral buzz, has been tried plenty of times.
Dove soap started the trend in 2013 with its "real beauty" ads that showed women sketches of themselves drawn by an FBI artist. Heineken created an ad in 2017 called "Worlds Apart" that put together individuals with opposing political view points.
Burger King created an ad in 2017 that dealt with high school bullying, and Coca-Cola and Procter and Gamble earned praise for their "Remove Labels" and "Always Like a Girl" advertisements.
Payless has been struggling against online competitors such as Amazon-owned Zappos and buzzy startups like Allbirds. It filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and reemerged from it four months later after shuttering nearly 700 stores.