You wouldn’t expect someone to splurge hundreds of dollars at Payless, but an elaborate scheme seemed to prove otherwise.

Payless Was Already Looking To Win Back The Hearts Of Customers

In 2018, The Washington Post reported that DCX Growth Accelerator, an advertising company based in Brooklyn, NY, reached out to the shoe retailer to launch an elaborate “culture hacking” campaign.

After securing a green light from Payless, the advertising company went full throttle and looked into ways to pull off the experiment while hopefully improving Payless’ traction on the market. Just one year prior, Payless had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, CNBC reports.

Payless was already hoping to create an outlandish advertising campaign with the holiday season approaching.

“We felt like this campaign would be a great way to get a lot of people to consider Payless again, and to realize it’s more than just a shoe store in the mall,” said Sarah Couch, Payless’s chief marketing officer, according to The Washington Post.

How They Pulled The Prank Off

Payless took on the name “Palessi” for the experiment set to kick off the hoax on Oct. 27, 2018, at a former Giorgio Armani store at Santa Monica Place. The advertising company hired sales employees and an interior designer to create a theme that screamed luxury and fine wine. In addition, they marked the original brand labels with stickers reading “Palessi” in clean, black font.

To sell the experience, they had to leverage social media and use random images of models and stilettos. In addition, a website was created and social media influencers and fashionistas were scouted to attend the event.

“The way we framed it is it’s a new store, a new brand and the owner is looking for some feedback,” said Doug Cameron, founder of DCX, according to The Washington Post.

Customers Opened Their Wallets To Purchase Palessi Shoes

Fast forward to the launch date, attendees eagerly lined up to snag a pair of the seemingly highly anticipated luxury shoes designed by Bruno Palessi. But the gag is that the designer did not exist. Some customers paid anywhere from $200, $400, and $600 for Payless shoes.

“I would pay $400, $500. People are going to be like, ‘Where did you get those? Those are amazing,’” a woman said, according to The Washington Post.

Customers were eventually led to a backroom where the hoax was revealed and many were left in shock.

“We wouldn’t have ever known. We were really convinced,” said Cat Chang, a Los Angeles diamond designer, according to The Washington Post. “They had us fooled, like completely.”

Fortunately, not all was lost.

The customers were able to keep the shoes they purchased for free and they left with an important lesson — luxury is clearly in the eyes of the beholder and perhaps not in the price tag.