Payless just pulled a great PR prank--really pulled out all the trolling stops--and took a satirical shot at influencers.

Trying to market via people who have influence isn't new and not restricted to social media. For example, Goggle has paid academics to create research that pushes the company's viewpoints. But then you get the social media concept, where sometimes it seems like everyone is an influencer. Even a potato can be an influencer.

In fashion, there is practically an industry of people who accumulate followers (a good chance that many pay for a lot of them). They try to sell themselves as capable of pushing a marketing message to all their devoted followers.

The fashion world can get snobby and Payless is not a luxury brand. So it ran a little experiment. The company set up a fake luxury footwear store in Los Angeles, calling it Palessi. (Read that as pay-less-y.) Then it invited selfie-snapping influencers to come in, peruse the merchandise, and buy some.

The results were pretty funny. There are clips of attendees expounding on the elegance, sophistication, and quality materials. The people there paid anywhere from $200 to $600 for a pair of shoes. These were products that Payless is selling during a holiday sale for about $20 each.

Here's someone who would willingly pay hundreds for the shoes she's looking at. And then they told her the source.

"Shut up! Are you serious? Did I just pay too much?"

Uh, yeah.

And another oops moment.

A few lessons for marketers to learn here

  • Don't assume influencers really know anything about their claimed subject of expertise. Some might. Many won't. Being an avid fan of something doesn't many a person is knowledgeable. They might only have strayed into the Dunning-Kruger zone.
  • Being a good potential influencer doesn't necessarily mean that you have to know what you're doing. But that should help. As Lena Katz, a branded content strategist woman who created the potato influencer, told me that a company is probably better off focusing on people with smaller followings that are more attentive because the influencer is an actual expert in some field.
  • Purchase decisions, at least in the consumer space, are mostly emotional. (Frankly, they're largely emotional in B-to-B marketing as well.) The proper surroundings and created experience can have them pay literally far more for a product than they otherwise would.