Payless created a prank store called Palessi along with fashion influencers in order to prove a point about the fashion industry. Via Wharton:
An elaborate advertising prank by discount retailer Payless ShoeSource is raising eyebrows and important questions about the ability of marketers to manipulate consumer behavior. The ruse took place in a mall near Los Angeles, where a select group of social media influencers were invited to a private launch party for new Italian shoe designer Bruno Palessi. But after the fashionistas paid hundreds of dollars for what they though was fancy footwear, they discovered they had been duped.
Payless pulled off the marketing ploy to highlight its newest shoes, which are inexpensive designs available at its stores. After making the purchases, shoppers were taken into a back room, told of the trick and given the shoes for free. The idea came from a Brooklyn marketing company, DCX Growth Accelerator, which specializes in what it calls “cultural hacking.”
When the social media influencers were invited to the fake grand opening for Palessi, they had no reason to suspect they were being duped. That’s because Payless planned every detail, right down to the labels in the shoes and the lighting in the store. The event was held in a defunct Armani store inside an upscale shopping center in Santa Monica, Calif. The company hired interior designers to transform the space with gold mannequins, winged statues and a mini runway. The products were sparsely placed, just like in a real boutique.