When most people think of Payless shoes, they conjure up an image of the midwestern strip mall store filled with middle age moms and senior citizens. In fact, when I was in middle school, I would make my mom drive to the Payless three miles away to avoid the possibility of being seen by anyone I knew. Yet when people think of invite-only SoCal pop-up stores filled with new high-end fashion brands, they’re often eager to jump at such an opportunity- something that advertisers have known for years.

And therein lies the story of how Palessi, one of the most brilliant marketing maneuvers of 2018, was born.

Last Wednesday, Payless took over a former Armani store, renamed the retail location as “Palessi” and stocked the outlet with its discount-priced boots, heels, tennis and leisure shoes. Then, it invited a flock of partygoers and sold them the shoes, typically priced at $20-$40 in Payless stores, at inflated designer price tags of $200 to $600. The pop-up store reportedly sold over $3,000 worth of footwear in just a few hours- far more than it could ever have in one of its normal retail locations. They invited fashion “influencers” to the event and recorded their responses, which range from hilarious to sad.

The ”influencers” praised the brand’s design, materials, and style, going so far as to call the shoes “elegant” and “stylish.”

Despite their perfectly legal activity, Payless refunded all of the influencers their money but kept their video testimonials as proof of the social experiment’s findings.  Doug Cameron, chief creative officer of New York ad company DCX Growth Accelerator, explained the stunt’s rationale in an interview to AdWeek: “Payless wanted to push the social experiment genre to new extremes, while simultaneously using it to make a cultural statement. Payless customers share a pragmatist point of view, and we thought it would be provocative to use this ideology to challenge today’s image-conscious fashion influencer culture.”

While Payless has received mostly positive praise for the event on social media, the influencers might be a little embarrassed, but at least now they know where they can get some great footwear for this winter season.

Without driving to a store three miles away.