Prank shows peo­ple will pay even for fake sta­tus

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY KRIS­TINE PHILLIPS

A mini-run­way, lined with stiletto heels, glis­tens in bright flu­o­res­cent light­ing. Shoes of var­i­ous types sit neatly in in­di­vid­ual glass shelves. A statue of an an­gel car­ry­ing sev­eral shop­ping bags stands in the mid­dle as Los An­ge­les fash­ion­istas mill about, try­ing on shoes, pos­ing on the red car­pet, drink­ing cham­pagne served in tall, slen­der glasses.

It was a pri­vate launch party of a new lux­ury brand of shoes called Pa­lessi, de­signed by Ital­ian de­signer Bruno Pa­lessi.

“I would pay $400, $500. Peo­ple are go­ing to be like, ‘Where did you get those? Those are amaz­ing,’ ” a woman said as she tried on a pair of bright-gold sneak­ers with leop­ard prints.

The woman was not ac­tu­ally buy­ing a Pa­lessi be­cause there’s no such brand, and there’s no Bruno Pa­lessi.

There is, how­ever, Pay­less ShoeSource - a dis­count shoe re­tailer hop­ing to shake things up through an elab­o­rate - and ex­pen­sive - ad­ver­tis­ing prank to at­tract new cus­tomers and change the per­cep­tion that the com­pany just sells cheap, un­fash­ion­able shoes.

“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.

But the prank also points to a re­al­ity about the hu­man mind: Con­sumers are not ca­pa­ble of dis­cern­ing the qual­ity and value of the things they buy, said Philip Graves, a con­sumer be­hav­ior con­sul­tant from Bri­tain. Slap a fancy-sound­ing Eu­ro­pean la­bel on a $30 shoes, and you have an il­lu­sion of sta­tus that peo­ple will pay an ex­or­bi­tant amount of money for.

“The way that we eval­u­ate things is through as­so­ci­a­tions. If you put wine in a nice bot­tle, peo­ple like it more. If you pack­age things up to look more pre­mium, peo­ple will like it more,” Graves said. “If ad­ver­tis­ing has high pro­duc­tion qual­i­ties, peo­ple will think it’s bet­ter.”

The cam­paign is the brain­child of a 10-per­son ad­ver­tis­ing com­pany in Brook­lyn. DCX Growth Ac­cel­er­a­tor spe­cial­izes on big me­dia pranks, or what the com­pany calls “cul­ture hack­ing.”

First, the team needed a lo­ca­tion for the fake launch party, and found what they thought was the per­fect one: a for­mer Gior­gio Ar­mani store at Santa Mon­ica Place, an up­scale shop­ping mall.

Sec­ond, they needed a name, and they wanted some­thing that sounded like Pay­less. They re­ar­ranged the letters in Eli Pass and came up with Pa­lessi.

They hired an in­te­rior de­signer to help them cre­ate an au­then­tic, lux­u­ri­ous look for the launch party, as well as peo­ple who would pose as sales em­ploy­ees. They brought in gold man­nequins, hung white pa­per shop­ping bags and in­stalled the big­winged an­gel statue in the mid­dle.

The team said they kept most of what’s al­ready in the store, such as the glass shelves, on which they neatly ar­ranged va­ri­eties of stilet­tos, pumps, sneak­ers, boots and leather shoes.

The team also cre­ated an In­sta­gram ac­count and be­gan crowd­ing it with cap­tion­less and ran­dom pic­tures of mod­els and stilet­tos.

Then, fi­nally, they needed po­ten­tial con­sumers. Cameron calls it “real per­son cast­ing.” They scouted the streets and the In­ter­net for so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers, fash­ion­able peo­ple who look like they’re likely to at­tend this type of event.

“The way we framed it is it’s a new store, a new brand and the owner is look­ing for some feed­back,” Cameron said.

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